Guests play slot machines at the new Resorts World Casino...

Guests play slot machines at the new Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens. (Oct. 28, 2011) Credit: Jason Andrew

Who's going to save New York from the Committee to Save New York, and other organizations just like it?

That lobbying coalition was formed by business groups to promote Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's agenda, and it clearly works in conjunction with his office. The law says such 501(c)(4) groups are designed to promote social welfare purposes that are not primarily political. In reality, the $12 million the committee has spent on ad campaigns and lobbying (of $17 million raised) has been deployed toward largely political goals, like passage of the property tax cap.

Where did that $17 million come from?

The specific rules on the ethics reform laws passed last year, which would mandate disclosure of such giving, have not yet been written. The last hearing on them was held yesterday in Albany as sparring groups seek to find meaningful ways to make known the identities of the donors, or to avoid them.

Shining a light on the intersections of money and influence in Albany is a never-ending battle: Each time a new way to track donors and power brokers is enacted into law, the players find a new way to obscure the connection. Now, the possibility of legal Las Vegas-style gambling in New York brings the battle to a whole new level.

Gambling interests can be counted on to throw money at Albany like no lobby ever. At the very least this will lead to the appearance of impropriety: It has already happened.

Genting Group, the multinational gambling concern operating a 4,500-machine racino at Aqueduct Racetrack, donated $400,000 to the Committee to Save New York last year. The New York Gaming Association, of which Genting is a prime backer, gave $2 million.

It's also been reported that Genting lobbied Cuomo for its plan to develop a convention center and casino at Aqueduct at a fundraiser for the governor in October. Cuomo supported the idea in his State of the State speech in January.

The donations were disclosed by news organizations, but they ideally would have been prominently posted on a public website. We don't see Cuomo's support for the convention center as being motivated by the donations, but had these gifts been disclosed, attempts to connect the dots on the timing of each movement and conversation wouldn't have turned into a parlor game for politicos on Twitter.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics' new rules governing disclosure of such contributions in this state must be airtight. Any loopholes obscuring donations from those who claim they may be harmed if their contribution is revealed should be severely constricted. More important, the layers of organization that keep the names of contributors hidden under a flurry of associations and committees must be peeled back, disclosing not just each onion layer they hide behind, but penetrating all the way to the actual entities trying to influence the policies of New York.

Legalized gambling, and many other initiatives supported by big political contributors, can benefit this state. But if the money and the ethics aren't handled properly, the costs will far outweigh the benefits.

This is a corrected version of the editorial. An earlier version mistakenly stated that the governor's fundraiser was in December.

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