The arrest of several New York elected officials and political party leaders shows once again how the influence of money and minor party political lines results in corruption.
Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith wanted to run for Mayor of New York City. Smith’s strategy was to run on the Republican line. Under New York State law in order for a non registered Republican to run on the Republican line, Republican party leaders must agree and sign a written authorization form called a Wilson Pakula (named after the legislators that introduced the law back in 1947). In order to receive the necessary authorization Smith needed to obtain approval from 3 of the 5 Republican County party leaders.
The deal making nature of politics brought together Senator Smith, a New York City Councilmember, a cooperating witness assisting the FBI due to his own legal problems, two Republican party leaders and an undercover FBI agent posing as a real estate developer. In an effort to provide Smith the written authorization he needed for his campaign, $40,000 was paid to two Republican party leaders by the undercover developer and more money was promised after the authorizations were signed. Smith agreed to help the undercover developer obtain state funding for his project in Spring Valley, NY. Amazingly the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Spring Valley also stuck their hand out and sought payments for their approvals of the undercover agent’s real estate development.
The criminal complaint provides an interesting look into the dark side of corrupt New York politics.
- As part of the deal a New York City Councilmember and State Senator Smith promised to steer tax dollars to development projects.
- The Mayor of Spring Valley, requested to be paid for her support of the project by directing the cooperating witness to form a company with a relative of the Mayor.
- The Deputy Mayor of Spring Valley received $10,000 cash as a requirement of his support for a real estate project.
- The New York City Councilman requested campaign cash assistance from the cooperating witness and promised to put someone on his congressional pay role as directed by the cooperating witness if his campaign for congress was succesful. The Councimember also promised to steer discretionary city dollars to the cooperating witnesses project. After being paid $7,500 cash the Councilmember stated “”Money is what greases the wheels good, bad, or indifferent.”
- At another meeting the undercover developer gave the Councilmember $6,500 and asked to receive $20,000 discretionary funding for his project. The Councilmember replied by stating: “Absolutely, that’s easy, that’s not even an issue, not even an issue. In fact, I might even be able to get you more.” The Councilmember received over $40,000 in bribe payments and wrote letters seeking $80,000 in city discretionary funds to the cooperating witness for consulting fees.
- In exchange for negotiating the payoffs for Smith to Republican party leaders, the Councilmember made it clear that he expected to be paid by being appointed Deputy Police Commissioner or Deputy Mayor should Smith become Mayor of New York and the Councilmember needed money to address his mortgage situation.
- When one of the Republican party leaders met with the undercover developer in addition to his direct financial payoff the leader requested that the developer do business with his insurance agency and his law firm, which would make things “very easy”.
This whole story is truly incredible. It shows you how taxpayer funds are steered in exchange for campaign contributions and outright bribes. Reform is needed at the state and local levels in New York. Some steps that could be taken:
- Stricter campaign contribution laws;
- Public financing of elections to encourage more competitive elections and to lessen the influence of big donors;
- Eliminate the use of Wilson Pakula authorizations. In order to run on a political party line, you should be registered to vote on that line; End the deal making of providing political lines to candidates in exchange for money and patronage jobs;
- Utilize professional managers to hire key department head positions who are not allowed by ethic rules to run for office or seek campaign dollars. Allowing hiring and contracting decisions to be made without regard to politics.