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New York AG Takes on ‘Golden Age of Graft’

MANHATTAN (CN) - To help end Albany's "golden age of graft," New York legislators may want to give themselves a hefty raise in exchange for giving up their side jobs, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told a crowded auditorium at New York Law School.

Schneiderman made no explicit reference to the federal corruption charges against former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver during his prepared remarks, but that prosecution loomed in the backdrop of his speech about how to spur "reform" from "scandal."

Federal authorities arrested Silver on Jan. 21 for allegedly accepting millions in kickbacks disguised as legitimate income from asbestos litigation and real-estate referrals from a private law practice.

Prosecutors say that Silver received $6 million in total, including $5.3 million from a single law firm: Weitz & Luxenberg.

Silver has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have accused the U.S. attorney's office of trying their client through the media.

While the Daily News speculated Schneiderman would break his silence on this case at Monday's event, sponsored by nonprofit group Citizens Union, he never referred to Silver by name.

Schneiderman did, however, propose avoiding a similar case by stating, "Outside employment income must be banned."

Predicting such a measure might meet resistance, Schneiderman said, "Let's get people a little outside of their comfort zone."

Making that change would mean raising New York legislators' current $79,500 salary to attract "honest" applicants, Schneiderman said.

Quoting former President John Adams, he added, "If honest men refuse it, others will not."

Although Schneiderman refrained from quoting a number during his speech, The New York Times reported that the increase would range between $33,000 and $94,500 a year.

Schneiderman also used the podium to make what appeared to be a veiled dig at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's disbanding of the Moreland Commission to investigate corruption.

The Silver prosecution raised questions about the sudden shuttering of that body.

Fighting the body's mandate for independent investigation, Silver tried to quash the commission's subpoena against him and lobbied against it in February 2014, according to his criminal complaint.

Roughly two months later, Governor Andrew Cuomo shut it down - less than a year into what was slated to be a 18-month probe.

New York City tabloids slammed Schneiderman at the time for citing the ongoing investigation as a reason to decline comment on the issue.

Alluding to that controversy, Schneiderman noted Monday that his office does not have original jurisdiction on public corruption cases.

Although Cuomo's office could "grant [jurisdiction] with the stroke of a pen," Schneiderman said, "my request was denied."

Other proposed reforms included the elimination of out-of-state contracts and the per diem payment system; the closing of the so-called "LLC loophole," referring to disguised funding of candidates through limited liability corporations; and the introduction of public matching funds into New York State elections.

Schneiderman also called for expanding legislators' current two-year terms to four years to limit the time spent fundraising for campaigns while in office.

Such a reform would also free legislators from "the vicissitudes of Albany sausage-making," he said.

Citizens Union issued its own reform recommendations and held a panel discussion after Schneiderman's speech.

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