With anonymously sourced reports rampant that the state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, will announce his resignation today in connection with a plea deal that will keep him out of jail for using state employees as companions for his wife, let us just say we regard this as not a particularly desirable outcome. Not that we are great fans of the comptroller. On the contrary, we endorsed his Republican opponent in last month's election, Christopher Callaghan, and were among the earliest critics of his ethical lapses.
Those lapses in our view are far more serious than the "Driving Mrs. Hevesi" scandal. The lapses we wrote about center on his campaign fund raising. Mr. Hevesi took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from trial lawyers and money managers, some of them not even from the state of New York. He then turned around and awarded the lawyers and money managers state business that came with fees worth millions of dollars. It might not break the law, but as the saying goes, the corruption is not what's illegal but what's legal.
The real scandal in Albany is not abuse of state drivers to chauffeur an ailing spouse. The vending-machine government in Albany concerns interest groups putting up money in the form of campaign contributions and getting money out in the form of government contracts or other allocations. Mr. Hevesi is hardly the only offender. The campaign fund raising he did is actually a cleaner kind of corruption than the other kind that apparently goes on in Albany, in which interest groups pay "legal fees" or "consulting fees" to lawmakers who are moonlighting in second jobs.
At least the campaign contributions are disclosed; as Wm. Hammond of the Daily News pointed out in a fine column yesterday, two of the three most powerful men in Albany, the Senate majority leader, Jos. Bruno, and the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, are making money on the side from clients whose identities and fees they refuse to disclose. Mr. Bruno says he is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. One of the things that troubles us about a plea deal by Mr. Hevesi is that it would put Messrs. Silver and Bruno in position to choose the replacement comptroller, who is, among other things, supposed to be the state's fiscal watchdog. Talk about foxes watching the henhouse.
What's more, there's something strange about Mr. Hevesi, who had told the voters he did not intend to resign, teaming up with the Albany district attorney to deprive the voters of the service of the person they elected as comptroller. We're all for cleaning up Albany. But we favor using the political and democratic process to keep lawmakers honest, rather than usurping that process, not plea bargains designed to permit a handful of politicians, themselves under a cloud, to name the second most-important state official.
In the case of the Hevesi scandal, the piece of information about the use of state employees for private purposes came out originally in the context not of a criminal investigation nor of a report by the attorney general nor even the ethics commission but in the context of opposition research in a partisan political campaign. It was Mr. Hevesi's Republican opponent, Christopher Callaghan, who uncovered the scandal and told the press about it. And it was in the context of an election that Eliot Spitzer, who will take over next month as governor, withdrew his endorsement of Mr. Hevesi.
So while we have nothing but admiration, personally and professionally, for those prosecutors who have brought corruption and other cases against Albany politicians, it strikes us that what is really needed to clean up our state government are not more prosecutions but more competitive elections. For that reason, a deal that has the effect of undoing the outcome of a democratic election, as a Hevesi resignation would, is a detour from the real and much needed work of cleaning up Albany.