Editorial: John Liu, you have some explaining to do

Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan, a former fundraiser

Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan, a former fundraiser for New York City Comptroller John Liu, exits Manhattan Federal Court in Manhattan. He was convicted of attempting to use straw donors to defraud the city of campaign matching funds. (April 30, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Just in case you needed a reminder, yesterday's verdicts against two former associates of City Comptroller John Liu are dramatic evidence that New York's tidal wave of public corruption continues to roll.

The prosecution said that Jia Hou, a campaign treasurer in Liu's successful 2009 bid for the comptroller's office, and Xing Wu Pan, a fundraiser in that effort, used straw donors to raise money and obtain matching funds from the city's Campaign Finance Board.

The verdicts are deeply troubling.

From the beginning, the city's campaign finance system was designed to give grassroots democracy a greater role in city politics. It was set up to induce candidates to raise money not from a handful of favor-seeking fat-cats but from throngs of ordinary citizens willing to dig into their pockets and back the candidates who shared their ideals.

The jury's decision says Liu's campaign subverted that mission. The straw donors, people secretly reimbursed for helping Liu, made the process a sham.

The irony is remarkable. People working for Liu -- who was asking to be the city's chief fiduciary officer -- were gaming the campaign finance system, the jury found.

The decision comes at a time when some are touting a state public campaign finance system as an antidote to Albany's corruption epidemic. If nothing else, the guilty verdicts proved there are no panaceas to public wrongdoing.

The verdicts are troubling for another reason as well.

Liu is a leading mayoral candidate this year with an avid political base that envisions him as the city's first Asian-American elected to that office. The verdicts now cast a shadow on his candidacy.

They're an issue Liu needs to forthrightly address.

The verdicts' shadow also extends to Liu's tenure as city comptroller. Among other things, the city comptroller is custodian and trustee of the $127.5 billion New York City Retirement Systems -- a position of tremendous financial responsibility. If the finances in his campaign could go so wrong, what about his service as comptroller? In an age of rolling scandals, Liu risks getting hit with a wave.


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