More than $7.4 billion of state contracts over the last five years were handed out to companies and individuals who retain the legal services of firms that just so happen to employ a state legislator, the New York Times reports. That poses all kinds of potential ethical conflicts — and the state government has not exactly been a bastion of purity in recent years. The largest of the contracts in question is a $1.7 billion deal for Caithness Energy, a client of the law firm that employs the State Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos.
Albany is on the verge of passing anti-corruption legislation in response to recent scandals, including the bribery charges against State Senator Carl Kruger and Representative William Boyland Jr. The new rules will require legislators to disclose the names of their legal clients if they maintain an active practice while serving in government, but wouldn’t address the less clear-cut potential conflicts the Times highlights. Legislators make just shy of $80,000, and a full two thirds of them have another simultaneous gig — under the new law, they’ll have to disclose exactly how much extra cash they’re raking in.
As one example of potential ethics conflicts, the paper details the relationship between State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio and O’Connell Electric Company, recipient of more than $50 million of state money over the past five years. Nozzolio does side work for a law firm that represents O’Connell, which also happens to donate funds to Nozzolio’s campaign. CEO Victor Salerno told the Times, “If any questions ever come up, [Nozzolio] knows where to get answers.” Maybe that just means Nozzolio is a fine attorney who knows state code inside and out, but Salerno sure managed to convey that sentiment in the most evocatively sketchy sentence possible. Poor Salerno might need to worry about Nozzolio’s answer-getting skills when the legislator starts asking him questions like, “Why did you make me sound like a mobster to the New York Times?”