It’s a very dirty, not-so-little, not-at-all-secret truth about New York state politics – money is a gateway to power.

But even if you accept that as a given, which I’d rather not, the move state Sen. Jeff Klein made this week is just too blatant for words. Even the term “unethical” fails to describe it.

If you aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, here’s the background: Klein, a Democrat who hails from the Bronx, basically put our state government up for sale. In a letter to union leadership, Klein, who is also chairman of the state Democratic Senate Committee, offered to sell them chairmanships on a newly created labor advisory council for a mere $50,000! And if they don’t have that much, they can buy a half-price membership to the council for $25,000.

According to the New York Post, which broke the story, the letter states that “Advisory Council chairs will have the unique opportunity to advise the Senate Dems on the structure and focus of the Labor Advisory Council.” It goes on to say that “in addition to all meetings, conferences and events that are included with Advisory Council membership, the advisory chairs will be invited to an exclusive meeting with the Senate majority leaders.” And it promises that Advisory Council members “will actively participate in the essential policy conversations that help construct our 2010 campaign strategy.”

Now wait a minute. Aren’t these the same labor leaders who are battling with the state Legislature over budget cuts that could eliminate jobs and overtime dollars for their members? Isn’t there a conflict here, kind of like letting the fox into the hen house?

And isn’t there a bit of a moral issue here as well, given the “pay to play” nature of Klein’s offer? I find it amazing that on one hand, we have the state appointed Commission on Public Integrity dropping the hammer on organizations that invite an Assembly or Senate member to lunch and on the other, a Senate leader who feels so emboldened that he can literally put legislative access up for sale.

In my mind, that’s the key: Our elected officials are too comfortable, and that makes them feel they have the power to do anything. They recognize New York’s long history of returning incumbents to office. So they worry more about building lucrative relationships with powerful (read that as moneyed) allies who will finance their election campaigns than they do about fairly serving the constituents that elected them.

That is just plain wrong. And it’s up to us, the taxpayers who pay their salaries and the salaries of all those unionized state workers, to tell them so. Loudly, clearly and definitively.

How do we do that? By ensuring that Election Day, Nov. 2, 2010 is truly Judgment Day, and that we go to the polls and speak with our votes, showing them that re-election is not automatic and that those who don’t earn our vote will be “retired” from public service.

Unfortunately, as I said at the beginning, money is power in Albany. And as much as we might not like to say it, it will take money to wage this fight to take back our state government. That money will go to research, to campaigns to educate voters on the issues and motivate them to go to the polls in sufficient numbers to effect a real change.

We can do it, and Unshackle Upstate will lead the way. But we need your help. Please click here and consider making a donation to our coalition, so that together, we can make a powerful, altering statement on Judgment Day.