The reforms Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed yesterday to fight public corruption are a good start. After the recent arrests of elected officials and party leaders, the governor's Public Trust Act would make it easier to prosecute such offenders and increases the penalties for their misdeeds. But to clean up the breeding ground that spawns this ugliness, you can't just go after the crooks. The cynical ways elections are manipulated and voters are disenfranchised also need to change.
Cuomo says a package of laws that would prompt systemic change is next on his agenda. For now, though, the new tools requested by local prosecutors is welcome. First of all, the reforms would make it easier to convict those who offer bribes as well as those who accept them. Presently, the burden of proof is a heavy one, demanding prosecutors show a corrupt agreement between both briber and the recipient. Under the proposal, only an attempt to influence or be influenced by one of the participants would be required. State district attorneys, who bring most of the local cases, would have the same laws as federal prosecutors.
The reforms would also make it a misdemeanor for a public official or employee to fail to report bribery. And the new penalties would keep the miscreants away from government, barring them from holding an elected or civil office, lobbying, or doing any other business with the state.
These changes would be improvements, but election laws must change too. Entrenched incumbency, the power of party bosses and noncompetitive elections are problems. In New York, we rue the crimes, but often it's the legal maneuvers that corrupt the system more.