New York Times columnist Michael Powell took State Senator Marty Golden and Sheepshead Bay’s State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz to task for sponsoring legislation that would have directed millions of dollars to the tobacco industry, and came, Powell writes, at the behest of a campaign contributor.
The legislation in question is a bill to reform the security tax stamp placed on cigarettes that proponents said would help combat cigarette bootlegging and raise $6 million for enforcement.
But in reality, Powell writes, it would have authorized an increase in payments for cigarette wholesalers who place the stamps, raising the take from two cents per pack to five cents per pack.
When Golden was questioned during a hearing on the bill by State Senator Liz Krueger about the increase, he chalked it up to rising costs.
Mr. Golden began to mutter of higher costs for wholesalers: Con Ed, health benefits, gasoline, rent, trucks, whatever. “That’s all increased much more than the dollars that we are asking for here,” he said, a touch plaintively.
This was not true, at least percentagewise. A 1996 dollar, adjusted for inflation, is worth $1.49 today. The bill backed by Mr. Golden and Mr. [Jeff] Klein, who intently watched this debate from his desk, would more than double the revenue of the wholesale firms.
Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with the Republican party in the State Senate after forming an unusual alliance that shut Democrats out of leadership, co-authored the bill with Golden.
It was introduced in the State Assembly by Cymbrowitz.
According to the Times report, the bill was put forward at the behest of Leonard Schwartz, a Manhattan Beach resident and chairman of Global Wholesale Tobacco. Schwartz has been a generous contributor to the campaign coffers of Klein, Golden and, less so, Cymbrowitz.
Of course, none of this is illegal, and the bill eventually died. But Powell opines that it’s deeply symptomatic of the pay-to-play culture that pervades Albany, wherein politicians can legally except funds from corporate interests, and then push legislation that steers large sums of money into their pockets.
Neither Golden nor Cymbrowitz commented on the bill to the New York Times. But a Klein ally, Senator Diane Savino, who represents Coney Island, went on the attack when asked about it by Politicker yesterday:
“I think people should take a step back and stop pretending to be outraged because it’s absolute nonsense,” Ms. Savino told Politicker at a Hurricane Sandy press conference in Coney Island. “You can take any issue and you can find a way to twist it to make it seem like something nefarious. In every one of these articles you see is a caveat there: ‘There’s nothing illegal about this.’ Well if that’s the case, why are you writing it?”
It’s worth noting that Savino, too, has benefited from Schwartz’s largesse. He donated $500 to her campaign in 2012, according to state campaign filings.
Powell, though, responded by pointing out that it’s his duty as a reporter to point out transactions of questionable ethics, even if it’s not against the law – especially when the subjects are those who make the law.
“If all we wrote about was the illegality in Albany without looking at all the shades of moral and ethical murk that encompass it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs as journalists,” Powell told Politicker. “If a politician does hack work, the politician can’t really complain.”
For the Republican senator, the news comes on the heels of another alleged pay-to-play scheme, in which Golden introduced legislation that would grant large tax breaks to five luxury developments in Manhattan, saving them tens of millions of dollars. The tax breaks were intended to spur residential construction and affordable housing, but the luxury properties were included under an exception proposed by Golden in the Senate, and Keith Wright in the Assembly.
The developers had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to leadership in both parties, including Golden.
When asked, Golden could not explain who added the giveaway to the legislation, or what justified it. The Moreland Commission, charged with investigating corruption in Albany, subpoenaed the developers in August.