Two more politicians are in hot water. Yesterday, a grand jury indicted State Senator Robert Ortt (R-Niagara) along with his predecessor, George Maziarz, for election law fraud.
Ortt is accused of using political donations to enrich himself, paying his wife $21,000 from the Niagara County Republican Party for work she didn’t do. Maziarz is accused of secretly paying a staffer in the same way. The former Niagara County Republican Chairman pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge though both Maziarz and Ortt pled not guilty.
Ortt denied the charges, defiantly insisting, “I am guilty of nothing.” He accused state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, of going after him for political reasons.
The State Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, though they only control 31 out of 63 seats (nine Democrats support the Republicans to give them the majority). If Ortt were to resign or be convicted, that would erode the Republicans’ tenuous hold on the chamber. Even if he does manage to escape conviction, he could be in for a tough re-election fight if Democrats can field a strong challenger.
However, these new indictments are a reminder that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership has been absent on the issue of ethics reform. Over the course of the last six years, numerous politicians have been convicted of corruption charges, most notably former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County). While Governor Cuomo repeatedly promised reform to clean up Albany, his actions have been lacking. Most notably, he shuttered the Moreland Commission he created to investigate corruption.
Already, advocates of good government have criticized Cuomo for not doing more to make government transparent and prevent corruption. Just Monday, Dick Dadey, the Executive Director of the watchdog group Citizens Union complained to WNYC: “We’re hearing nothing from him and legislative leaders.”
Cuomo and the rest of the state legislature is stuck between a rock and a hard place here. They got elected in the current, lax environment and benefitted from it–indeed, Cuomo ultimately shuttered the Moreland Commission because its investigations were too close for comfort. However, with a bevy of politicians already in prison or on their way to it, Cuomo faces an outcry and pressure to do something. So far, that’s added up to Cuomo publicly supporting reforms but not doing much to push the legislature to vote for a bill.
If there’s any reason Cuomo might change now, it would be to build a record that he could point to while running for President. However, in the absence of that, expect the complaints to just get louder.
Get more news and explanation. Sign up for ShakingNews emails!