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Will Bruno Walk?

A federal judge sentenced former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno to two years in prison last Thursday, and then suspended the sentence pending the outcome of a trio of U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging the notoriously vague "honest services" law under which Bruno was convicted.

Like the case against Bruce Weyhrauch, the former Alaska lawmaker whose appeal the Court heard last fall, the case against Bruno is based on his failure to disclose conflicts of interest which he had no duty to disclose under state law. But unlike Weyhrauch, Bruno wasn't merely shopping his resume around for a job; he was collecting millions of dollars in "consulting" fees from companies with interests before the New York Assembly.

Bruno is a genuinely a shady character, so it is unfortunate, in a way, that he will likely get off scot-free when the Supreme Court sharply limits or strikes down the honest services law, as it should. But the state of New York has only itself to blame for failing time and again to enact ethics rules that require disclosures of conflicts of interest such as those that Bruno concealed. Public disclosure can neutralize improper influence, and many other states have ethics rules that require it.

Vague statutes and politically driven prosecutions have been hallmarks of the law enforcement-oriented approach to political malfeasance. The New York Assembly should instead experiment with more sunshine. By enabling the voters to decide what kinds of conflicts they are willing to tolerate from their politicians, disclosure laws can reduce political corruption with fewer side effects than vague prohibitions that even judges can't define.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.