Having been twice approved by the legislature, the proposed amendment is being submitted to New York voters. But the State Board of Elections added the following language to the proposal for the obvious purpose of encouraging voters to support it:
for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.(2)
The Attorney General brought suit, saying it was improper of the Board of Elections to add electioneering language to a ballot proposal. The Court punted, saying he was too late, though the late submission of the language by the Board of Elections was another strike against it. Am I wrong to think that the Board of Elections should be a neutral on election issues, an honest broker or umpire, not a partisan of either side? But what are we to make of this? A great deal of money has apparently changed hands over the building of casinos.(3) So maybe the Board of Elections wanted to be on someone’s good side, or reacted to an implicit threat, it’s hard to know which. Either way, the Board should not be electioneering. But one should not doubt the combined power of money and self-interest in New York politics. There have been reports that the Governor blocked his hand-picked anti-corruption commission from investigating the money that was contributed at least on the Governor’s side of the political aisle. (4) And there have also been some reports that the subpoenas, or some of them, were withdrawn and reissued for merely technical reasons.(5) It’s hard to know that too. But the larger problem is that the Board of Elections and the Governor are showing us just how deeply ingrained in New York politics is the culture of corruption. Academic commentators have protested for decades against the way that the Board of Elections is composed in New York. There is nothing neutral about it. Two commissioners are selected from nominations made by New York Democratic leaders and two by New York Republican leaders.(6) Everyone is selected to please the two major parties; everyone is a partisan; and third parties be darned. The system is rigged at every step. One could be very proud of New York. It’s a big state, with a great deal of wealth and industry, and some of the world’s finest educational institutions. But it’s burdened with areas of politics that are corrupt to the core. It would be nice to see principled behavior from all these folk. Ultimately corruption is self-sustaining. Someone has to stop and say no. There are principles that money shouldn’t be able to buy. Meanwhile I want nothing to do with casinos, especially after the money, the lobbying, and the electioneering by the Board of Elections. Just say no.
Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.
(1) Snyder v Walsh, 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4571, 2 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Oct. 16, 2013).(2) Id. at 3.(3) Thomas Kaplan, “Casino Measure Led an Industry To Spend Richly,” New York Times, October 15, 2013 at A1, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/nyregion/casino-referendum-led-gambling-industry-to-spend-richly-in-albany.html(4) Michael Powell, “Governor’s Crusade Against Corruption Comes With Too Many Asterisks,” New York Times, October 15, 2013, A20.(5) Jimmy Vielkind, ”Moreland Commission: Cuomo warns legislators about resisting Moreland,” (Capital), October 23, 2013 5:52 pm, http://www.capitalnewyork.com/tags/moreland-commission.(6) See NY CLS Elec § 3-100.
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