Flanagan Expects No Ethics Changes Soon

May 13, 2015

N.Y. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown), left, walks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office at the Capitol with Robert Mujica, chief of staff, on Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Albany, N.Y.
Credit (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York's new Senate Leader, John Flanagan, said he does not think that further ethics reform will be enacted in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, despite an ongoing corruption scandal that cost his predecessor his job. 

“I would be surprised if there were further changes before the end of the session,” Flanagan said. “But that doesn’t mean that the subject won’t come up.”  

Flanagan, in a meeting with reporters, said some “aggressive” reforms were already enacted as part of the state budget. They include fuller disclosure of private law clients, improved accountably of lawmakers’ daily expense accounts, and forfeiture of the pensions of lawmakers convicted of crimes. 

Flanagan does not see the problem as systematic, but rather the actions of a few bad actors. But he admits it casts a pall over the Capitol. 

“I’m saddened, frankly, when any of this happens,” he said. “The reality is if one person gets named in some way or castigated or charged, that does have an effect on everybody.” 

The new Senate leader faces greater scrutiny, in the wake of the charges against his predecessor. 

Flanagan quit his private law practice last week, but is not voluntarily disclosing his clients. He said he will comply with the new laws approved in the budget, but they will not take effect for several months. Flanagan said he has not represented any clients that have business before the state, and is unaware of which of his firm’s clients have interests before state government. 

“I’m telling you I don’t know,” Flanagan said. 

When he was told by a reporter that the firm does indeed have several clients with business before the state, Flanagan talked of past attempts by the legislature at fuller disclosure, that have yet to be completed. 

“We passed a law a couple of years that required a database to be put out to the public which has never been accomplished,” he said. “I still think that should be done.” 

Democrats in the Senate have been pushing a bill to close a loophole in existing campaign finance laws. It permits individuals and corporations to create Limited Liability Companies, or LLCs, to donate money and skirt existing donor limits. The bill was voted out of the elections committee and is currently before the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, which does not meet regularly. 

LLCs have figured into the corruption charges against both Senator Dean Skelos, and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Both accepted LLC donations from Glenwood Management, a real estate company. Glenwood has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but its senior executive has become a cooperating witness in the Skelos case.  

Flanagan, like many Senators, other lawmakers, and Governor Cuomo, has also received campaign donations from Glenwood management. 

Flanagan did not offer his opinion on the LLC bill, but said Republicans will be talking it over in their private party conference meetings. 

“It would be precipitous of me to suggest what the conference will do,” said Flanagan. “I guarantee that will be a discussion that the conference will have.” 

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, a long time advocate of reform, said changes are not likely to happen until the remaining federal investigations are concluded. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, after the arrest of former Speaker Silver and after former Senate Leader Skelos’ surrender to authorities, has said to “stay tuned.”   Horner said, unlikely as it sounds, it seems that Albany has not yet reached its “tipping point,” despite five Senate Leaders, two Assembly Speakers and the previous two governors having trouble with the law. 

“I don’t know what it takes, frankly,” Horner said.  

Horner said it’s now up to Cuomo to propose any additional reforms. He said in the past, it’s been the executive, not the legislature, who drives change.