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Ethics laws, charges questioned in Joe Bruno case

"It's the prosecutors deciding what's honest service," said Lane. "One of the big problems is that it doesn't allow the potential defendant to know what the charges against them are."

That's what Bruno is arguing. He's called the indictment "prosecutorial sleight of hand" and said "they cannot find one example of criminal or illegal intent."

Prosecutors will try to prove otherwise when the case goes to trial Nov. 2.

Bruno's case is only another example of what some decry as a long string of ethics failures in the Empire State and further evidence that change to the system itself is long overdue.

"There's no meaningful public oversight," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "The fact that the Legislative Ethics Committee doesn't have any real power it results in the fact that the lawmakers don't take ethics disclosure requirements seriously."

Horner argues that an independent watchdog is needed to enforce ethics regulations in the legislature and the executive branch.

"You would never leave the oil companies in charge of enforcing environmental law," he said. "It's in their own political self interest to fix the system, but they don't do it out of self interest or sheer stubbornness."

New York is considered to have some of the poorest ethics law in the nation, leaving it wide open for federal prosecutors to go after statesmen with mail fraud corruption charges and other litigation. Part of the problem is legislators work part-time and are expected to make money outside of their Capitol offices, said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause in New York, a nonprofit lobby organization aimed at advocating for openness in government.

"We have a part-time legislature, and our legislators are permitted to have side income, but these are people who are career politicians how are they going to generate that income?" she said.

She argued that lawmaking should be a full-time position and disclosure requirements should be bolstered in a reflection of federal standards.

"There's no reason why New York would not require the same, except that they do not want to put themselves into trouble, and they don't want to reveal things that they don't want questioned," said Lerner. "It can be done in a way that permits you to have a reasonable amount of privacy.""

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