Just a week since Sheldon Silver's arrest, and all over the place his former supporters in the media have turned on him. The New York Times called for Silver's resignation from the Assembly on January 22, the very day the federal criminal charges against him were announced. The New York Observer called for his resignation on January 27 -- but hey, they're only a weekly paper. In the blogosphere, the Daily Kos said "Silver Must Go" on January 26.
What I don't understand is where these guys, and lots of others like them, have been for the last twenty years. The fact is that there's very little really new in the Silver charges other than that Preet Bharara signed his name to them and attached the dubious label of "criminal" to conduct most of which all thinking people long knew was occurring. Why does the imperative to get rid of Silver somehow turn on Mr. Bharara's now having stated his opinion that Mr. Silver's long-running and well-known conduct fits the amorphous term "deprivation of the intangible right to honest services"?
Let's consider what we knew about Silver's activities prior to January 22, and what inferences would be drawn from that by any reasonable person. Silver's public disclosure forms are summarized in the criminal complaint against him, available here. From these disclosure forms alone, we knew that Silver was "of counsel" to a law firm called Weitz & Luxenberg since at least 2002, and that he received gradually increasing amounts of income from that law firm, topping $250,000 per year in 2005 (and every year thereafter), topping $350,000 in 2012, and topping $650,000 in 2013. From Weitz & Luxenberg's web site, we knew that they are a prominent plaintiff's personal injury law firm mainly specializing in litigation involving asbestos exposure and medical devices. From the legal press more generally, we knew that W&L in fact has the largest market share in New York among law firms in the asbestos exposure business.
And now for obvious inferences. Silver was heavily occupied as Speaker of the Assembly and it would not be reasonable to think that he was spending his days interviewing clients, deposing witnesses or arguing in court. Obviously the income he received from W&L was not based on his own hours doing legal work, but rather on his referrals of clients to the firm. And why might such clients be referred to the firm through Silver? Well, Silver had very tight control over a vast state empire of handouts and giveaways to the favored and predation on the disfavored. Is it really possible that with dozens of clients getting referred to W&L via Silver -- enough clients to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in referral income -- that none of it had anything to do with at least some hope or prospect of favorable treatment from this vast empire? Of course that was not possible, and of course we knew it.
So where was the New York Times (or any of the other New York left wing press) calling for the ouster of Silver for corruption any time before now or endorsing his opponent in any election? I sure can't find it. (There were a few calls for Silver to leave a couple of years ago over an issue of secretly settling charges of sexual misconduct against a member of his staff.)
The fact is that New York's vast empire of state-granted handouts and predation is inherently corrupt and corrupting. There are many billions of dollars at stake every year in the redistributions that come before the legislature. In the real estate area alone, the legislature controls the rent regulation regime, which can be altered at any time to take large sums away from real estate investors; that regime is up for renewal later this year. And then there are the tax breaks (e.g., "421(a)") used to get so-called "affordable housing" built. Those can be eliminated at any time. Of course the real estate industry is desperate to do some kind of favors for the pols who pull the strings. The same goes for the participants in every other area where the government takes from some and gives to others. For example, don't get me started on the "anti-poverty" scam.
But the reason that the New York Times and the others were not calling for the ouster of Silver is that they basically support the regime of passing out of economic benefits by the state. They think that government distribution of favors can create perfect social justice and they do not recognize this regime as an inherent source of fundamental corruption.
Getting rid of Silver is not going to fix this problem. The new person will be just as venal. Very few people can resist these kinds of temptations. Nor will criminal prosecution of everyone ever be a solution. There are plenty of ways to do favors and enrich people that will not be clear "bribes" or "kickbacks" that the criminal law can effectively address.
The only solution is shrinkage of the state redistribution apparatus. That means electing candidates with a political philosophy the complete opposite of Silver. Of course, that runs directly contrary to the New York conventional ignorance, which holds that the basic function of government is to take from some and give to others to achieve perfect fairness between and among all people. Well, you don't get fairness; you get corruption.