Why is political corruption illegal if it is what New York voters want?

This New York Times story says that Sheldon Silver, recently arrested for violating corruption laws, was repeatedly reelected by voters “despite years of investigations, suspicions and rumors of impropriety.” In other words, most voters knew that he was corrupt but still wanted him as their representative in the state legislature. Does it make sense for the Feds to say “You voters cannot have the politician that you want”? Should a state be able to opt out of Federal anti-corruption rules? The stuff that Silver was doing doesn’t affect interstate commerce. Why wasn’t this a matter for New York prosecutors and courts to handle as they saw fit?

Separately, I don’t see why it is a news story that political corruption is common in New York. The state and local government is a larger fraction of the economy in New York than anywhere else in the U.S. (Tax Foundation), which means that there is more at stake and therefore more potentially for sale. The New York Post says “Virtually nothing happens [in Albany] that isn’t driven by self-dealing” and suggests that it isn’t too different at the federal level (story).

Coincidentally we’ve been trying to interview some New York legislators this week, trying to add some color to our book. We start by sending them email background such as the following:

We’re interested in the thought process that goes into making family law and are wondering if you can answer some questions for us about New York. Compared to most other states, New York is an outlier in at least the following areas: (1) children who would have a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement in other states would be in the sole custody of one parent in New York (seeing the other parent as an every-other-weekend “visitor”), (2) a custody lawsuit victor earning $ 10 million per year can collect 50 percent of the defeated parent’s after-tax middle class income (because New York does not use an “income shares” model of child support, unlike most states).

What is the public policy rationale for New York being the land of the winner-take-all custody and child support lawsuit? If this makes sense for children why did neighboring Pennsylvania become more or less a 50/50 shared parenting state?

What is the public policy rationale for taking half of the spending power from a middle class parent who lost a custody lawsuit and giving that money to a rich investment banker or physician? How are children served if one biological parent is more or less impoverished while the other one is made a few percent richer?

What is the rationale for different children having different cash values depending on the judge assigned to the case? Attorneys told us that judges all use the same percentage-of-income formula for calculating child support but they cap the quantity of income used at different levels. So a child support plaintiff in front of one judge could end up with 17 percent of $ 400,000 every year and a plaintiff in front of a different judge could end up with 17 percent of $ 200,000 every year. How can it be “justice” when children who live next door to each other yield different amounts of cash given equivalent incomes for the defendant parents? Why doesn’t New York have a state-wide statutory cap on child support like Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Alaska, or Texas?

What is the public policy rationale for different children having different cash values depending on when the defendant parent was sued? As noted in our book, “The co-parent of the first child is entitled to 17 percent of the defendant’s income. The co-parent of the second child is entitled to only 17 percent of the remaining 83 percent. The co-parent of the third child is entitled to only 17 percent of the remaining 69 percent. At this point the defendant has been reduced to poverty by a combination of child support orders and taxes. A fourth plaintiff would be unable to collect anything for a fourth child, even if the previous three plaintiffs had all married into households with high incomes.” If the system is supposed to be for the benefit of children why does one child have superior rights to another depending on when a parent chose to file a lawsuit?

So far most of them are ducking us with creative excuses!

[Mayor de Blasio also likes Silver, according to the New York Post: “Although the charges announced today certainly are very serious, I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity, and he certainly has due-process rights, and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out,” the mayor said at City Hall.]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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