Editorial: Big money follows the powerful
Last year, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was paid between $650,000 and $750,000 by the Manhattan law firm Weitz & Luxenberg to serve as one of its of its attorneys.
Let’s assume Silver bills by the hour, as most attorneys do.
At a pay rate of $500 an hour, that would work out to between 1,300 and 1,500 billable hours a year, or about four hours a day of legal work for every day of the year, weekends and holidays included. And that doesn’t count any of the hours he has to put in running one of the largest state government bodies in the nation.
When ever does this man sleep?
Of course, he’s not paid by the hour as an attorney. He’s not spending half of his days in court arguing cases. He’s paid all that money because of who he is and what he can do in his position as speaker of the New York State Assembly. In that role, his power to influence state legislation and control the allocation of state taxpayer money is second to none, except for maybe the governor. And even on that point, the governor might concede.
Coincidentally, one of the largest campaign contributors in the state is the Trial Lawyers Association. In 2013, Crains Business reported, the association was the state’s seventh largest campaign contributor, just behind the state hospital association and the state teachers union. Of the $579,710 the association contributed last year, the largest chunk, $102,300, went to the New York State Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee.
Here’s another coincidence. Mr. Silver is seen as the key obstructionist to state tort reform, which would save taxpayers $100 million a year and reduce insurance and medical costs. Since tort reform could reduce jury awards in civil cases, lawyers benefit from not reforming the state’s tort laws.
Mr. Silver is not alone among his colleagues getting rich on outside revenue while at the same influencing legislation that directly affects his business interests. He’s just the biggest shark in the ocean.
If you’ve ever wondered why this state needs ethics and campaign finance reform, there’s your answer.