Sheldon Silver is a busy man.
Besides running the State Assembly with a iron fist (or whatever metal is forged on the Lower East Side), Silver last year earned a bundle at the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg.
According to disclosure forms released yesterday, the State Assembly Speaker took home between $650,000 and $750,000 for his work there. Dean Skelos, the Senate's top Republican, earned between $150,000 and $250,000 for his time at a law firm while Jeff Klein, the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, took in as much as $100,000 for his lawyering in 2013.
That's a lot of legal lifting for three powerful men who are already tasked with running the state legislature.
Without impugning the integrity of this trio, it's fair to say that there's a screaming conflict of interest if we allow legislators to craft laws on the one hand but then be paid by people who may have interest in the very litigation that's percolating up in Albany.
As Capital's Jimmy Vielkind and Laura Nahmias point out: "The speaker has long been criticized for sitting on measures that might restrict the size of verdicts won by trial lawyers as a result of his outside engagement. His spokesman has denied any connection, and says his opposition to tort reform measures is based on principle."
But imagine if John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi or Governor Cuomo had a law firm and we didn't even know who their clients were?
As corruption cases circle the State Capitol like a storm cloud that won't go away, we should think hard about banning – or at least limiting – outside income for state legislators. It would eliminate any potential conflicts of interest while also decreasing a temptation level that seems to be at an all-time high in Albany.
With July 4th approaching, lawmakers could make the weekend truly memorable if they declared independence from moonlighting. But then I always tend to dream away on a holiday weekend.