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Gov't insider deals elude even the best laws

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Closing the barn door too late is one action at which Nassau County officials are very accomplished. Unless proposed laws to prevent sweetheart deals are beefed up and voters demand that lawmakers end the pay-to-play culture here, taxpayers will wait till the cows come home to see cronyism eliminated from municipal contracts.

County Executive Edward Mangano and county lawmakers on the Democratic side of the aisle sprang into action after news reports two weeks ago of a federal investigation into the awarding of a $12-million storm-water contract in 2013 to AbTech Industries of Arizona. The firm was not the lowest bidder, but it did have Adam Skelos, son of state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, as a paid consultant. There were no objections or even questions raised by lawmakers during the approval process in 2014 and Adam Skelos' connection was not publicly known.

Now that subpoenas are landing all over Nassau and Mangano has appeared before a federal grand jury to answer questions about the county's procurement process, there is a rush to put in place a disclosure requirement for lobbyists. Mangano, a Republican, wants lobbyists to register and reveal their clients, their compensation and the matter they were trying to influence -- whether a law or contract or proclamation. The Democrats want each contract to include a disclosure provision that would name everyone working for the contractor, as well as listing all contacts with county officials.

Yet, back-scratching and having the juice of an insider -- whether in Washington, D.C., Albany or on Long Island -- is quite a sophisticated practice. Deals are already beyond the reach of the toughest disclosure laws, sealed with a handshake on a golf course or a job for a mistress. It's important to make the rules tougher, but sometimes only a subpoena can elicit the information that connects the dots.