In the wake of a New York Times article that revealed several senators are being paid for leadership positions they do not hold, an attorney for the Senate Democrats has declared the practice illegal in an analysis backed up by case law and legal precedent.
The Times article, published May 11, revealed that information was sent to the State Comptroller’s Office certifying that Sens. Diane Savino, José Peralta and David Valesky were serving as committee leaders and should be paid an additional stipend for their service. All three are members of the “Independent Democratic Conference” and caucus with Senate Republicans, which tips the balance of power in the state Senate to the Republicans.
All three serve as “vice chairs” of standing committees and not actual chairs. Senate Democrats believe there is no gray area about which titles and positions deserve additional pay under state law.
“The granting of legislative allowances to senators who do not hold one of the specifically itemized positions listed in Legislative Law Section 5-A is not permitted by law,” wrote Shontell M. Smith, Esq., Director of Counsel and Finance for the Senate Democratic Conference in a memo released Monday. “Senate leadership and their staffs may not lawfully file records with the Comptroller that authorize payments to senators for such allowances unless that specific senator explicitly holds the position listed in Legislative Law.”
The full document is here:
“The judiciary has long warned against the exact type of manipulation taking place in this case and rejected previous attempts to improperly alter legislative allowances,” Smith’s memo states. “Any other reading of these provisions would make a mockery of our laws and open the door to corrupt practices.”
The Senate Republican Conference maintains the leadership stipends are allowed by state law.
The government watchdog group Common Cause/NY issued the following statement following the New York Times report:
“Today’s New York Times report that the Senate filed fraudulent documents to secure ‘lulus’ for members of the Independent Democratic Conference represents an egregious misuse of public monies, and potentially a more serious legal violation, which must be investigated by law enforcement. This is not a clerical error to be blamed on staff, or punted to the comptroller.”