It's time for everyone's favorite parlor game: "Who's Under Investigation In Albany?" Today's players, unsurprisingly if you've been paying attention to the news, are everyone involved with the payment of leadership stipends to lawmakers under false pretenses. God I love parlor games.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is working with state investigators, the Times reports, to try to figure out how exactly eight state senators were listed as, and then paid as, committee chairs despite the fact that they weren't really, y'know, committee chairs. Three members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference; State Senators David Valeksy, Jose Peralta and Diane Savino, and four Republicans; State Senators Thomas O'Mara, Patrick Gallivan, Patty Richie and Pamela Helming were listed as committee chairs in payroll requests sent to the comptroller's office.
None of the state senators were officially chairs of the committees they were listed as chairing. Instead, they served as vice-chairs. However, since each of the committees were actually chaired by members of the Republican leadership who chose to take their larger leadership stipends, the money technically went unclaimed. At issue is whether that money, which is made available to committee chairs under the idea that they do more work heading up committees, is legally allowed to go to committee vice-chairs despite no specific law allowing it.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who an Albany source said had recently been so relaxed he was seen rocking a dad goatee, claims the payments were on the level. However, as the Times points out, he's claimed the payments were legal by pointing out that former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos first okayed paying vice chairs back in 2015. Skelos, you may remember, is a former Senate Majority Leader because he was convicted of a variety of corruption charges.
After the news broke that Republicans had also benefitted from the stipend payments, State Senator Pamela Helming broke ranks with the rest of the accused senators and vowed to give the money back in a statement sent to the press earlier this week. "I have not, and will not, accept any payment for my work as Vice Chair of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction committee. My office is in the process of returning these uncashed checks to the taxpayers of our state," she told reporters.
Eric Schneiderman hasn't stepped in to investigate yet, but Governor Cuomo unleashed a word salad that close watchers of Albany have suggested is a reopening of his feud with DiNapoli.
"It's either legal or not legal. The comptroller of the state signed a check, or funded a payroll, or whatever he did. He either did it legally or illegally. I believe his position is, it was legal," Cuomo told reporters yesterday. Which is, technically, accurate, as DiNapoli has maintained that all he did was fulfill a number of payroll requests that he believed to be legal.
As of press time, Senator Flanagan's press office did not respond to a request for comment.