Frivolous pursuit

Frivolous Pursuit

Saugerties legislator Joe Maloney, once derided as a “clown” by former county executive Mike Hein for his frequent and pointed criticisms of Hein’s campaign finance practices, can leave office with head high at the end of next month. State supreme court justice Richard Mott not only reversed and dismissed Maloney’s conviction last year by a Hein-appointed county ethics board’s conflicts of interest charges, but soundly rebuked the board for its “arbitrary and capricious” actions.

Maloney was charged and convicted by the ethics board for voting as a legislator for a union contract negotiated by the executive which included his wife’s position in the comptroller’s office. The contract covered some 1,000 other members of the CSEA, some of whom, no doubt at least several, were also relatives or spouses of county legislators. The vote by the full legislature was unanimous, as is usually the case on union contracts.

Maloney’s single two-year term in the legislature has been nothing if not controversial. Elected with Republican endorsement in his first run for office, he danced for a year with them who brung him, then after being ostracized by the GOP, switched to the Democrats, giving them the majority.

But faithless fickleness wasn’t the Barclay Heights liquor store owner’s mortal sin. Repeatedly assailing the unassailable Hein for alleged “pay to play” campaign improprieties loosen the dogs of ethics on the flip-flopping freshman. That Maloney continually connected dots showing large campaign donations to the executive – he raised some $1.2 million during slightly more than 10 years in office –that seemed to lead to hefty county contracts made almost no impression on his legislative colleagues. There was no proof, nor would any be likely absent a federal investigation or one of the parties fessing up.

Imagine this exchange:

“Yeah, I gave the guy a $10,000 donation and I got a million-dollar contract. You got a problem with that?”

“Well, yeah.”

The judge also looked askance at the ethic board’s $7,000 fine and its imposition of a three-month suspension on Maloney. To put this draconian punishment in perspective, legislators are paid $14,000 a year. More to the point, the board has no such authority, he ruled. That authority rested with the legislature. Just to wrap a bow on this quasi-judicial fiasco, Judge Mott noted in his ruling that long-established state law exempts elected legislators from conflict of interest in voting on union contracts where relatives or spouses are involved. One would think a first-semester law student would have looked that up before considering the Maloney case.

Maloney suffered more than public humiliation. He said his legal expenses exceeded $11,000, but that he will not seek reimbursement from the county. “My lawyers tell me the county probably spent at least as much prosecuting this worthless case. Why put the taxpayers through more expense?” he said. “I have my name and reputation back. That’s enough.”

As for the widespread suspicion that a vindictive Hein brought down the ethics hounds on Maloney, there’s no proof, nor will there be. Let’s just say his confluence of motive, opportunity, influence and power can sometimes produce odious outcomes.

Public finance of campaigns – This one seemed to have slipped under the radar, until the legislature held a public hearing last week. On the table is a proposal for county taxpayers to finance political campaigns for county-wide offices to include sheriff, executive clerk, comptroller and 23 legislators.

Opinion is divided with good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, arguing it would take big money out of local politics and level the playing field for candidates of limited means, while others resent the notion of their tax dollars going to finance political campaigns of any kind.

 I’m with the latter group. It’s bad enough that politicians piss away my hard-earned money, but do I have to pay to elect them to do it? Nah.

Besides, it probably won’t do much good.

For all the rules and regs and limits on campaign spending, matching grants and the like proposed under the suggested legislation, corruption in its various forms will always be part of politics.

For apopphrical reference, I recall a conversation with the late, great Mayor T.R. Gallo of Kingston.

Gallo told me over several drinks about an unnamed business-type constituent who had approached him at a function. He told the newly-inaugurated young mayor that he liked his style, how he had rejuvenated a moribund city with energy and purpose. He said he’d like to contribute to his campaign, thereby getting the mayor’s rapt attention, but didn’t want to see his name “on donor lists or in the paper.”

“Have you ever heard of cash?” Gallo asked him.

There is too the suspicious way this hot potato was buried until after the election. With absolutely no fanfare, county executive Pat Ryan tucked away $75,000 to finance political campaigns in his 2020 budget proposal released in early October and now under consideration by the legislature. Cleverly, the legislature scheduled the public hearing on this controversial subject for two weeks after the election.

Politicians have every reason to fear citizen wrath over this latest raid on the public treasury. Let’s put it on the ballot and see what happens.