“What do you know what do you hear?”
“Have you heard anything about Richard and the Israeli’s Dante?”
Dante lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. It was his tell that he was about to pass on a rumor that he wanted you to believe was highly confidential, and one that he had heard from some high level government official. This was pretty funny since no one could hear us on the phone other than federal agents listening in on their wiretaps and because the only people Dante talked to where reporters who were trading gossip and dropping hints about their sources in government. More than once Dante had passed on as fact a rumor I had given him that same day but which he now claimed came from conversations with “the big guy”.
“I was just talking to some friends in law enforcement who believe that new guy in the Southern District is going to shake things up around here on Thursday”
Now that didn’t answer my question about Richard and the Israelis but I like a good piece of gossip as much as the next guy so I didn’t interrupt.
“It has something to do with campaign donations and this whole concept of three men in a room”
Campaign donations were the mother’s milk of Albany politics. At this moment alone I had on my desk 47 separate invitations to fundraisers this week ranging from a $100 a head hot dog picnic for the newest member of the Independent Republican Conference in the Assembly, the IRC by the way consisted of 5 republican assembly members 3 of whom were involved in a convoluted love triangle, all the way up to a $5000 per head book signing for the governors newest book “Profiles in Family Politics”. Writing books was the governor’s favorite way to collect bribes from groups with business before the state. It was actually pretty simple and a bulletproof way to monetize his office without running afoul of the bribery statutes. The governor would find a company that needed something in the way of legislation and also had an affiliated entity or subsidiary in the media world. The media company would sign him to a book deal and pay a huge advance against future sales with the contractual agreement not to require repayment of the advance if the book sold a small number of copies. The book would be ghost written and after publication the governor’s campaign would buy enough copies to satisfy the contract clause. The parent company would get their bill passed, the governor would pad his bank account and everything would be publicly disclosed. The last book deal the governor entered into paid him $750000 and sold 4000 copies, 3700 of which his campaign purchased and gave out at campaign stops. In the last 2 years alone the governor had written 6 nonfiction books, 3 fiction books, a book of poetry and one comic book, and banked 3.7 million dollars.
“Supposedly he has a new idea that will change the way campaign finance is done, kind of piggybacking with the good government proposals to eliminate the LLC loophole, making legislators full time and paying them enough so they don’t steal”
I’d been hearing this same old song for 20 years. The problem was that the LLC loophole wasn’t the cause of corruption the legislators themselves were. And paying them more wasn’t necessary since almost all of them where making more as legislators than they ever could in the private sector. The vast majority would have trouble getting jobs as dishwashers at Eggy’s if they weren’t in office. No the real issue was the corrosive nature of campaign donation requests themselves. It was the equivalent of a mafia extortion plot. Donate or be punished. Dejardin, my compliance guy, had once explained to me the simplest way to fix the culture of corruption in Albany. His idea was to create an agency that was responsible for collecting donations from donors and distributing the money to the donor’s choice of candidates. The catch was to make it a felony for the donor to tell the candidate they donated and make it a felony for the candidate to ask. The new agency would keep records but would be required to only publish who gave money and how much but not to whom and to also publish which candidates received money but not from whom and to do so in lump sums so neither party knew the whole picture. If donors had to donate anonymously they could support candidates on their political positions and not on a quid pro quo basis. And the elected official could act based upon what they believed was best for their constituency not to repay campaign donors. Of course as I pointed out to Dejardin if donations really were anonymous no one would donate and if politicians passed legislation to serve the public no one would hire lobbyists. Dejardin was a genius but a complete naiveté when it came to the way government really worked. After all it was Denny Dejardin that had written an op-ed piece for the New York Times arguing that one man one vote was the root cause of our dysfunctional government. He wrote that if he had one share of Microsoft he didn’t get the same voice as Bill Gates did in running Microsoft. He went on to predict that one man one vote would eventually lead to a system where the majority could confiscate the minority’s property on the simple theory of it wasn’t fair and they had more votes than the party whose property was confiscated. Denny was absolutely certain that a family of immigrants would one day pull up in his driveway in their Prius and tell him they were moving into Denny’s palatial home and worst of all that they were going to start driving his prized Ferrari Dino, but that he was welcome to drive the Prius. Denny may be right but you don’t write that in The New York Times without expecting a violent response from the great unwashed. It got so bad Denny had to hire one of Jelly’s dishwashers to act as his body guard.
“Who is this new guy Dante?”
“His name is Ping Bo Xian, he comes out of Senator Shlumber’s operation, and I think he was deputy counsel for the United States Senates standing committee on state legislative corruption. Very polished, great on his feet, ruthless and the rumor is looking to replace Shlumber down the road. They call him Ping Pong”
“Ping Pong huh? What makes him any different than the last 10 US Attorneys down there?”
“Two things. One he has a lot of money, his sister started an on line business to sell micro condoms”
“Micro condoms? What the fuck is that?”
“Really small condoms apparently there is a huge market for them and people don’t want to go into a store to buy them.”
“So if his sister started the business how did that make him rich?”
“He had equity in the business and when they went public he used his position with Shlumber to grease the wheels at the SEC or FCC or some federal agency that was slowing up the cash out”
“So what’s the second thing that makes him different than every other wanna be Elliot Ness?”
“I heard he plans to announce on Thursday a RICO indictment against the entire legislature and the governor. He plans to get a federal monitor appointed to oversee the three men in a room and turn it into three men in a cell and four men in the room going forward with the fourth man a court appointed monitor with wide powers to investigate the formulation of legislation.”
Holy Shit. I was literally floored, not much surprised me anymore but this was game changing. Could Ping Pong actually pull it off? If he did it would be the end of the system we all knew. This wasn’t Denny Dejardin just spouting off. This would be real. I had to keep my cool with Dante after all it was Dante and someone else out there could just be spinning the story to gauge a reaction.
“So Dante can you get me a micro condom? I want to give it to the hose to use as a hat on his hose. I’m playing golf with him shortly and it would be hilarious I’ll tell him it’s for just the tip. Come to think of it get me two I’ll give one to Rocky Schwartz at the same time he’s hung like a gerbil. Just think those two represent the long and the short of politics. I crack myself up”
Dante in a very serious voice replied “Will do Leathers”
“Oh and by the way before I forget see if anyone is talking about Richard hiring Speaker Washington’s brother that might be a good story for Dickie Fred at the Post, he loves to write anonymously sourced attack pieces that suck up to one side or the other”
“You’re slipping Leathers, Dickie retired this morning there is a rumor that he was on a list of clients of the Kings Klub. He was client number 93.”
“Client 93 huh?”
“Yup I’m told by the big guy himself there is more to come. The big guy is thinking about writing a book about it, he is going to title it Profiles in the Plague Years”
“Dante is there any way you can get me a copy of that client list”
“No problem Leathers but save yourself some time I’m told it is almost identical to the telephone directory of the Senate and Assembly”
By the time I hung up my head was spinning. As I looked at my desk and saw all the invitations to fundraisers all I could think about was Ping Pong, prostitutes and playing golf with the hose.