The outside legal work of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was the basis of his arrest on federal corruption charges last month. Now, some lawmakers are worried that their own employment outside the legislature could be getting undue attention. One prominent State Senator is voluntarily giving up his work as a lawyer. Zack Fink filed this report.
With a focus on rooting out corruption in Albany, Senator Jeff Klein, who heads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, is giving up all of his outside income.
"I am someone who believes in leading by example so I am going to divest from my law practice Klein, Calderoni & Santucci. From this point forward, I already told my law partners that I will not handle any more cases or see any more clients," Klein says.
Klein is an equity partner at his Bronx firm, where according to his financial disclosure form, he pulled in between $75,000 and $100,000 in 2013, the last year for which information is available. Klein says he only made about $50,000 in 2014.
Outside income from two law firms are what led to corruption charges against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Since then, there have been multiple discussions in the state Capitol about how to limit or better monitor external income. Lawmakers are allowed to have outside income because their jobs as legislators are technically part time.
One idea was to increase their base pay and block all other employment.
"I am hopeful there will be a pay increase. I think legislators deserve a pay increase. We haven't gotten one in a long time. But again, if that happens or not, I am prepared to make this a full-time job without any outside income," Klein said.
On Monday the Senate Democrats came up with their own plan for ethics reform.
The Democrats have proposed restricting outside income to 15 percent of current salaries. Lawmakers make $79,500 so the limit would be $12,000 in outside income per year. It would also ban certain kinds of outside employment.
The Democratic Conference plan stops short of Klein's proposal calling for a full ban. Senate Democrats want to continue to allow certain outside employment. Senator Gustavo Rivera for example, earns roughly $6,000 per year for teaching part time.
"Someone being in front of a classroom teaching college twice a year is very different than somebody representing clients that none of us know," said Senator Gustavo Rivera.
Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to set up an outside commission to look into legislator's pay and determine if a raise is warranted. Some lawmakers were very frustrated by what they believe was Cuomo's efforts to prevent a pay raise from being approved late last year.