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Corruption Is Destroying New York State

Zephyr Teachout, a 2014 candidate for governor, with Joe Percoco and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Screengrab: NY True)

The news today that Joe Percoco — a man who was like a brother to Gov. Andrew Cuomo — was convicted of collecting cash bribes is another embarrassment for New York and our democracy, or what passes for one here. Corruption means waste, fraud, and abuse — it means a government that can’t work the way it should and therefore fails our most vulnerable citizens.

I do not want to understate the importance of this conviction or its disturbing nature. Corruption is a cancer on democracy. Anytime a person so central to the functioning of a government is found guilty, it’s distressing. We don’t root for this. We want our democracy to work.

Albany is not beyond redemption, but it is clear after today that the corruption endemic to the State Legislature has also infected the Governor’s Mansion. This is not simply a Republican or Democratic issue. This is something we all need to be concerned with as New Yorkers and Americans.

What I am deeply troubled about, as a candidate for State Senate in Brooklyn, is the future of New York. Corruption trials have rocked Albany before. What comes next is a good deal of moaning and groaning and nothing else. Laws do not change. We are stuck in the same bad movie.

There are good lawmakers in Albany who have been trying for years to alter this insidious status quo. They have repeatedly been stymied by a Republican-controlled State Senate and a Democratic governor in Cuomo who has taken no interest in their efforts. I hope today that changes.

Let’s start with the LLC loophole. Because our election laws are some of the very worst in America, millionaires and billionaires can easily circumvent donation limits by creating LLC’s. So if you are Joe Billionaire and want to buy off a certain governor, all you need to do is create a few LLC’s. Maybe four. Maybe twenty.

Under state law, corporations are limited to political donations of $5,000 a year. But limited liability companies are allowed to donate $60,800 a year to any statewide candidate, just like individuals. Cuomo has collected millions from LLC’s. Since 1999, according to the New York Times, LLC’s have funneled over $100 million to political candidates.

It’s important to remember that New York’s campaign finance system was broken long before Citizens United. It’s important to remember New York’s corruption problem long preceded the chaos in Washington. Our backyard reeks. We have to take out the trash.

I echo Zephyr Teachout’s call for Cuomo to close the LLC loophole in this state budget and return all his LLC contributions before he runs for re-election. Considering the campaign cash that will be lost and how Republicans still have a significant say over the budget process, I don’t imagine this will happen.

Do not let Cuomo mislead you. Joe Percoco was not just an aide and not just an employee. He was *the* aide, a foundational figure central the functioning of Cuomo’s administration. He was the enforcer, the kingpin.

This is a tragic day for our democracy. It is also a very important day.

We will decide this fall whether to give State Senator Marty Golden, my opponent, another term. We will also decide this fall whether Gov. Cuomo deserves a third term.

I know I can’t choose this status quo.

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