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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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When Things Get All Blurred

$154,000 in Albany…$183,000 in Syracuse…$152,000 in Rochester…

Scrutiny, oversight, accountability and integrity are all twisted up together. Pull one thread out and really bad decisions can get made. Lines blur, and it becomes very hard to pick out the bad guys from the good guys, who is for you from who is against you.

$130,000 in Buffalo…

The State Integrity Investigation released last week was an unprecedented attempt to objectively measure levels of corruption in the 50 states. It was a $1.5 million collaboration between Global Integrity, the Center for Public Integrity and Public Radio International. One hundred experts in government integrity helped measure the strength of laws on the books and everyday practices in government. The investigation was designed to shine a light on practices that undermine trust, but also to examine what states do right.

New York ranked 36th among the states, with a grade of D. No state received an A.

$460,000 in New York City…

This follows on the heels of a recent report released by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, which named New York as the most corrupt state. However, this was based on the 2,522 federal public corruption convictions in New York between 1976 and 2010 (beating out California with only 2,345). Well, it’s nice to see that there are still opportunities in New York, because isn’t opportunity what made us the Empire State? Bum, bum, badabum-bum, start spreading the news…

We kid because we love. This column defended our state legislature when the Brennan Center subjectively declared it the “most dysfunctional” in America. That phrase has appeared in hundreds of news stories. This month alone, Pennsylvania passed a law prohibiting health care professionals from investigating or sharing information about health effects of chemicals and procedures used in natural gas “fracking.” The Arizona Senate passed a bill prohibiting doctors from telling patients about prenatal fetal problems, and the Arizona House passed a bill that allows kids to carry guns in backpacks. Dysfunctional? New York will have to take a number.

The tone is set at the top. Always.

$2.8 million.

That’s what the Committee to Save New York spent in December to praise Governor Cuomo in television ads. Those other dollar amounts above are the reported media buys by CSNY in selected markets just in the 10-day period ending on March 22. If you have watched commercial television during the past week, you have likely seen these ads. The governor closed a $10 billion budget deficit. Nope. The pension changes will give the state significant savings. Nope. Tax caps. Um, nope.

Last year, CSNY finally filed as a lobbying group trying to influence policy. It made public its board of directors, driven by real estate mega-developers and Wall Street financiers. This gave some insight into their expenditures, but not into its fund raising. In 2011, CSNY spent at least $11.7 million dollars on lobbying, outspending even the health care industry by $3 million. It has been reported that to get things off the ground, members of the executive committee wrote checks for $1 million a piece.

In some parts of the state, CSNY hires regiments of college students to knock on doors for support. CSNY representatives roam the hallways of the Capitol and Legislative Office Building at Albany. They don’t need to convince, cajole or threaten. They are there merely to remind.

Some state legislators are terrified of being targeted by powerful forces able to blow millions in any district at any time. The rest think, “Where can I get me one of those?”

Agendas are being driven. Options are being choked off or buried.

Few people reading this know about the proposal for a temporary bonus recapture tax that could raise up to $14 billion from highly-paid financial sector employees. But we all know of the burning need to steer public pensions into 401(k) plans, where every transaction, trade and churn generates fees for…for whom?

Some of Governor Cuomo’s close political allies and largest campaign contributors are involved with CSNY. If he asked them to stop or to change tactics or to work for world peace, they would.

Will he?

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net