In her first speech as governor, Kathy Hochul promised a “new era of transparency” in Albany.
Well, a big test of this pledge here. And the early signs are not encouraging.
The gov is trying to restrict in scope or outright oppose — depending on if you listen to her office or Randall Jackson, the attorney for the Executive Chamber — a subpoena of her records dealing with Ascend, a Boston-based medical-marijuana firm that got the go-ahead in late 2021 to acquire a majority stake in MedMen, a New York-based cannabis company.
MedMen alleges the OK stemmed from political pressure Ascend exerted. And public records show that Ascend kicked in $15,000 to Hochul’s campaign in October. MedMen also alleges the Office of Cannabis Management abruptly fast-tracked the acquisition approval just in time to meet an annual deadline after initially stating it would take months (the timeline places this happening after that donation occurred).
Hochul, the OCM, and Ascend all deny these allegations — the latter of which, about fast-tracking, was sworn under penalty of perjury. And Hochul’s office has said it will release at least some responsive documents.
So maybe this is smoke without fire. Not every fund-raising interaction is corrupt. And we hope this is the case here.
Because Hochul has a huge plate of very real problems to deal with — New York’s unbalanced finances, the massive population exodus and the statewide crime wave, to name only a few. Even the appearance of corruption will hamstring her.
But the governor, in pushing to restrict or quash the subpoena, looks like she’s breaking or backsliding on a fundamental promise, a vow that extends beyond the minutiae of policy.
What does transparency mean, if not letting people see what’s really been going on inside the government? Especially around issues like trading campaign cash for political favors, something that has plagued Albany and shaken the trust of voters since time out of mind.
Remember, too, that major scandals forced two of our last four governors out of office — the institution itself needs pressure-washing.
Add in a top national electoral theme of recent years: draining the swamp. Officeholders at every level should be terrified of allegations like these, lest some insurgents unseat them with promises of dredging and disinfection.
So let the sunshine in, governor. It’s the only way to keep your promise — and your political future intact.