Friday, October 10, 2008

A Corrupt Bargain

As the Daily Politics blog reported yesterday, Common Cause and NYPIRG have filed an official complaint with the city's COIB as a result of the deal made between billionaires Bloomberg and Lauder:

"Government watchdog groups have filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Bloomberg, charging that hizzoner violated conflict-of-interest rules in cutting his term-limits deal with fellow billionaire Ron Lauder. Common Cause and the New York Public Interest Research Group, in a joint letter to the Conflict of Interests Board, say Bloomberg stepped over the line in offering to appoint Lauder to a Charter revision commission in exchange for not opposing the mayor's plan to seek a third term."We believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder," wrote Common Cause's Susan Lerner and NYPIRG's Gene Russianoff."

However, this conflict, one that we first commented on a few days ago, should not be sent to a toothless Bloomberg-controlled entity, but to the US Attorney's office where the criminal nature of the arrangement can be investigated. It should be pointed out, that the mayor needs to be held to the same standards that all office holders must adhere to; and when he doesn't our laws should apply equally regardless of the net worth of the elected official.

In fact, as the mayor should know, the COIB has already ruled that being part of a commission is a thing of value as far as the city's conflict of interest law is concerned. The fact that the deal was done in plain sight doesn't exculpate Mike Bloomberg-who, more than anyone, should have been keenly aware of his own board's views.

Here's the relevant passage of the letter sent tothe COIB:

"Under section 2604(b)(2) of the City Charter the Mayor cannot “use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant …” Mayor Bloomberg has introduced legislation in the City Council - Intro 845 - that would permanently extend the current two-term limit to three terms. It is the subject of great public controversy, with many groups urging a special election as a fairer way to consider a change in term limits. The two-term limit provisions were placed into the City Charter by a public vote in 1993 and reaffirmed in 1996. We believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder."

The mayor's response? Here's from today's NY Times: "Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said there was no conflict of interest. “This is purely a publicity stunt by people who are distorting the intent of the conflicts law because they disagree with the mayor on a matter of public policy.” He added: “It’s the first of what will likely be many headline-seeking activities to prevent the City Council from exercising its authority to change a local law.”

What's the nature of the distortion? What doesn't Mr. Post understand about the term "private or personal advantage"? This is the essence of the problem-hubris, generated by great wealth and the concomitant belief that the normal rules only apply to others. Or maybe it's just ignorance, a manifestation of the old cliche, "as dumb as a post."

The law is clear, as clear as the fact that Bloomberg flouted it with impunity. As our former mayor once said: "One city, one standard."