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OpinionColumnistsRita Ciolli

Long Island’s Republican senators stubborn on ethics

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference on a legislative ethics reform agreement as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, left, listens in the Red Room at the Capitol on March 18, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP

Long Island’s Republican state senators are refusing to come clean on outside income. Led by Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, the senators keep promising they will embrace a very good set of reforms that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Assembly agreed to last week. But the GOP, which spent all week bluffing that they had their own plan, has yet to put one on the table with just a few hours left for an on-time budget. They’re betting Cuomo will blink on deadline but that’s increasingly seeming like a bad bet.
Why are the senators balking? Because a handful of senators who are attorneys don’t want to disclose the identity of their private clients. Essentially these senators are taking the position that their lucrative side practices will dry up because publicity-shy clients will find other lawyers.
But why would a potential client who really wants to use a senator for a house-closing or to sue a vendor really turn elsewhere? The name of the lawyer-legislator would already be on public documents.
Perhaps the real problem is this: Disclosure would actually reveal that the senator, or his law firm, is getting paid, not for his legal expertise but for the influence he wields in the Senate. Clients who have business with the state, or want a certain law passed for their benefit, are clients who put the lawmaker in the perilous conflict-of-interest zone. In the worst-case scenarios, any quid pro quo is illegal influence peddling. By refusing to support disclosure reform, the senators are acting in their ultimate self-interest. If they disclose, they won’t have any clients.
The Senate is trying to distract attention by saying the executive branch should have more disclosure and, most specifically, they want the Cuomo’s longtime domestic partner, Sandra Lee, to reveal her income. There’s merit to their arguments. But it’s not an excuse for doing nothing.
Cuomo should stay strong on his demands even if it means the state won’t have an ontime budget. Cleaning up Albany is more important.