The question of ethics in politics is neither new nor resolved. This is true at the presidential level as well as in Federal and State elections. New York State is perhaps the most prominent of States that comes to mind in the modern era on this issue. Generally with good cause. But the question of if and when corruption and ethics violations can be fought should be asked. Especially in light of the upcoming 2016 elections.
Part of the reason for the focus on NY is that it is an apparent locus of the repeated scenario of an elected official gaining office; and often in relatively short order becoming the subject of a scandalous revelation of ethics violations. Since 2007, Governors of NY have been embroiled by allegations and violations of ethics and law. It has caused 2 of the most recent 3 Governors to lose their positions.
Elliot Spitzer was ousted due to ‘Troopergate’ and the Emperor’s Club prostitution scandal in just a year of his tenure. David Patterson, who replaced Spitzer, had his own Public Integrity scandal as well as disclosing just a day after being sworn in as Governor that he was an adulterer. He too would lose the Governorship, this time due to being forced out of the race by political pressure from President Obama and allegation of witness tampering and abusive use of State Police.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is special though. Under his on-going tenure a slew of current and prior elected officials, politicos, and even private sector leaders have been arrested and convicted. Notable individuals directly linked to Gov. Cuomo include Sheldon Silver, Dean Skelos, Joseph Percoco, and Alain Kaloyeros just to highlight a small fraction of the individuals involved.
Gov. Cuomo himself has been under investigation for ethics and criminal violations twice, with a third investigation continuing. Considering the number of people surrounding and connected to Gov. Cuomo, smart oddsmakers will not take bets on if Cuomo is ultimately charged with corruption – instead taking bets on when if public opinion is a factor.
But the record of corruption and ethics violations in New York are not limited to just the Governorship. Nor is it a matter solely affecting elected officials. At the Federal level and further down-ballot, the question of ethics violations continues to plague the State as if Tammany Hall had never ceased but merely changed its name.
Ethics violations of Rep. Charles Rangel, earning a censure from Congress, Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak being sanctioned due to sexual harrassment, and the scandals of disgraced former-Rep. Anthony Weiner come to mind but are not alone.
The DNC leaked letters. The tweet of NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio to Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sponsorship of GOP events by Dutchess County Court Judge candidate Edward McLoughlin. All examples of the many levels corruption and violations have eked into the election process.
Given this backdrop, the New York 22nd Congressional race – considered one of the most contentious races in the nation – is all the more of interest, in the State and nation. It is an example of the battle occurring on large and small stages. Not a battle of Parties, but of promises to fight corruption (made by all candidates of all Parties) and the potential capability to do so.
One the candidates in the race is businessman Martin Babinec (no Party affiliation). The founder of TriNet Group, Mr. Babinec has made several claims in political ads that he will fight corruption in NYS and Congress. Mr. Babinec has never held a political position, which can be said to limit the ability to fight corruption and violations in the past, while enabling the potential to do so in the future.
But a quick review on Google search reveals that Mr. Babinec is currently involved in a court case alleging violations of SEC regulations thus defrauding investors. This has not been addressed by Mr. Babinec in his public statements on various media outlets since March 2016 when he tried and failed to gain entry on the November ballot on the Independence Party line (Mr. Babinec has since gained entry via the Reform Party that represents 0.002% of voters in the 8 counties comprising the NY-22). Whether this is a factor in the potential battle of corruption and ethics violations is unknown.
Another opponent in the highly contested race is Legislator Kim Myers (Democrat). Legislator Myers is also no stranger to complaints of ethics violations. In July 2016, the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACTDC), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas, filed a complaint with the Broome County Board of Ethics. [Note: FACTDC was asked for comment on the complaint and did not respond to our request as of the publishing of this article.] That complaint alleged, in part, that violation of Broome County Code 74-2 (b) occurred from March 3, 2016 up to and/or beyond July 11, 2016, by Kim Myers
” Charter and Code of the County of Broome – 74-2
The following activities are prohibited:
1) Activities unrelated to the County’s mission
8) Solicitation for religious and political causes
11) Any activity meant to foster personal gain”
According to the Carol Hall of the Broome County Legislature, on behalf of Michael Marinaccio the Board of Ethics Chairman, whom we contacted on September 22-23, 2016, the complaint has been closed and no other information can be provided as per Broome County Code 53-19. It is unclear why the complaint was closed, though it may be due to a change in resources for the Myers campaign.
But there is more. We have possession of documentation identifying another complaint, by a private citizen, against Kim Myers filed on September 20, 2016. That complaint, filed with the
Authorities Budget Office (ABO), alleges that the Broome County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), along with the Kim Myers campaign and Dick’s Sporting Goods, acted inappropriately and without good faith to the public.
This complaint stems from the secret “Project Mario” deal that was announced only after Legislator Kim Myers had secured the Democrat seat in the NY-22 race. At issue is the fact that several members of the Broome IDA – IDA Chairman Terrance Kane , Executive Director Kevin McClaughlin, Steven Feehan, and at least Lamont Pinker in addition – are political donors to the Myers campaign. This at least “created a perception of conflict,” if not direct violations.
While this complaint is being reviewed currently by the ABO, no official comment can be made. Request for comment for this article from the Kim Myers campaign have not resulted in any response at the time of this article or the 24 hours prior to it.
Thus in review, The NY-22 election is a microcosm of New York State and to an extent national politics. There are individual politicians and law enforcement authorities, like Preet Bharara, who are actively seeking to remove the corruption that the public (in NY and 81% of the nation) are all too aware of. There are candidates and politicians that have made claims to follow the lead of Mr. Bharara, and may or may not be capable to follow through. But at the same time there are many elected politicians and candidates that are apparently seeking to maintain, or are highly questionable about their ability and intent to eradicate this blight of governance.
The fact that the Democrat candidate for the presidency (who was also a former Senator for New York) was only just cleared of criminal prosecution under debatable circumstances, seems to indicate that the potential for greater corruption in Government is likely. New York State seems poised to capitalize on this, as one of the last strongholds of historic corruption that even Chicago may envy. Making the question facing voters not only if there is a need for fighting corruption in politics, but who is actually strong enough to do so in this political environment?