Today, we have State Senate Democrats to thank for clearing up any uncertainty that money buys access in politics. True to their pledge to bring openness and transparency to state government, the Democrats actually put the idea in writing in a letter: $50,000 "to engage in direct dialogue with members of the Senate Democratic Majority Conference."

It almost makes you miss the good ol' days when a wink and a nod sufficed to extract a substantial check. Only three months have gone by since the deposed Republican majority leader was convicted on federal pay-to-play charges; it's illegal to link campaign contributions to future government actions. That's not to say that the Democrats' letter promised such a link, but they have left themselves wide open to suspicion.

Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), chairman of the Democrats' election campaign, sent the March 11 letter to labor leaders around the state, offering them membership in a new Labor Advisory Council. That $50,000 buys a chairmanship, and $25,000 gets membership. Participation in "essential policy conversations" is promised, along with access to Democratic leaders.

The letter echoes a similar gaffe by Senate president Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), three months before his party won the majority in 2008. He urged a roomful of lobbyists at a Kingston golf outing to get in on the ground floor with the soon-to-be-victorious Democrats - for a fee, of course.

Money and politics. They're a dangerous mix. hN