In the Albany sewer and Washington swamp, displaying a mere ounce of integrity or ethics puts you on the fast-track to becoming a political outcast.
For the creatures of the sewer and swamp, success is often measured not by serving your constituents and taxpayers well, but by how much you can personally benefit from your elected position.
Take exhibit A: Sheldon Silver.
After serving nearly 40 years in one of New York’s most prestigious institutions, the state Assembly, he was invited by a jury of his peers to spend another 12 in a federal one – prison.
The jury found him guilty of lying, cheating, stealing, and covering up his own crimes and those of others in 2015. However, Silver’s first conviction for his $4 million bribes-and-kickbacks scheme was voided by a federal appeals court to conform with a 2016 Supreme Court decision that reversed the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Most Americans would assume that taking nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in return for a series of “official acts” would be unequivocally illegal. But in the halls of our state capitol, tragically, that’s business as usual.
The Supreme Court case, McDonnell v. United States, defined “official act” so narrowly, as to make it perfectly legal for an elected official to act as McDonnell and Silver did: accepting bribes in return for setting up official meetings, organizing high-level donor events, and talking to other elected officials on behalf of donors.
This ruling left a loophole making it perfectly acceptable for the wealthy and well-connected to buy politicians’ influence — something nearly every American would consider a clear act of bribery.
So much for draining the swamp.
Just two weeks ago, federal prosecutors re-filed charges and secured yet another conviction. Silver faces 130 years in prison at his sentencing this month.
But, once again, Sheldon Silver is one of many corrupt politicians who could be let off the hook.
Until this loophole is closed, politicians like Silver will continue to get away with using their elected office to personally enrich themselves.
To put an end to this state-sanctioned corruption, I am introducing the “Upholding the Integrity of Public Officials Act.” My legislation makes it clear that if an elected official accepts bribes in return for acting in their official capacity, whether it be setting up meetings, organizing high-level events, or contacting other elected officials, they’ve committed a crime.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, this legislation is necessary to ensure Silver and the scores of other corrupt politicians pay for their crimes against the public trust.
And with the federal corruption trials of Gov. Cuomo’s close associates and aides on the horizon, closing this loophole is now more important than ever.
The consequences of political criminal activity have held New York and its people back for years. It’s time to give the Albany sewer a deep clean and drain the swamp by passing the “Upholding the Integrity of Public Officials Act” (H.R. 4218).
A public servant should never personally benefit from public office, and, when they do, they should pay the price. Allowing corrupt politicians, like Sheldon Silver, who have been convicted in a court of law to go free, is an insult to the people of New York. It undermines the very pillars of oversight and transparency that are vital to our democracy.
It is a simple and fair standard that we should expect all “public servants” to uphold.
Power, influence, and access should not be reserved for those with the money to buy (or steal) it. The black market in political favors and gifts ends now. Our great democracy is not for sale.