The New York State Legislature has successfully shut the doors of Governor Andrew Cuomo's special commission to investigate corruption among its ranks, better known as the Moreland Commission.
As part of recent budget negotiations, Cuomo agreed on Monday, March 31, to permanently close down this special commission to investigate corruption in Albany, amongst other places (ahem - government). In exchange for allowing Albany to proceed as if it were the wild west of lawlessness, the state legislature agreed to some alleged changes in regards to campaign finance reporting requirements, as well as to change bribery laws and to try public financing of elections in this year's race for state comptroller. (Alas, only for comptroller).
Good government advocates complain that the changes are minor and hardly put a dent in addressing the egregious problems the Moreland Commission was just beginning to expose.
The Legislature voted in the new, $140 million budget at the 11th hour and just as midnight approached. The Jewish Voice finds the news of the commission's closure to be more than disconcerting, for numerous reasons.
To begin, Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman set up the special panel to investigate corruption last year after scores of bribery arrests and ethical breaches.
The birth of the commission was a politically based maneuver set about to not only end corruption in New York's filthy political arena but also as a publicity stunt on Governor Cuomo's behalf.
And now, not even one year after the creation of this commission, it's demise is based on yet another political ploy as well. Even worse, it is based entirely on the back-room deals Governor Cuomo claimed that it was set up to investigate and bring to justice in the first place. The commission was established to investigate crimes, and the budget negotiations that killed this project are criminal in and of themselves.
A preliminary report released by the Moreland Commission just prior to the new year revealed a culture of corruption, including practices it said were "perfectly legal yet profoundly wrong." The report did not name names and said investigations were preliminary, thus implying there was more to come, ie. arrests, a full report, not just teasers to string the public along.
The commission also shared tales regarding pay-to-play scenarios and conflicts of interest and brought about more questions as to how legislators spend campaign funds on questionable personal expenses.
As the commission headed for shutdown, Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the commission, said that investigations would be referred to other prosecutors following the shutdown. That offers little reassurance the investigations will be seen to the end, as it is an elecion year and there is much speculation that the upcoming races are a key component to what drove the commission’s closure to begin with.
Good government groups have rejected the idea of a "trial run" for public financing in only one measly race, that of state comptroller, for the entire year. Such groups havd asked legislators not only to vote against it but also asked Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and his opponents not to participate.
Here is what the new budget laws agreed NOT do in exchang for closure of the commission: loopholes allowing donors to give unlimited amounts of cash will not not be closed, nor will the same loopholes that give businesses a back door to exceed normal campgaign limits that have allowed them to donate multiple times under diffierent company names; legislators will not be required to name all of their clients. Unless the Jewish Voice is incorrect, these are all aspects of public corruption that will be allowed to reign free, and legally, still.
And worse of all, it also does not allow the Moreland Commission to finish its nearly year-long investigation. This is especially tawdry after the laundry list of “outrages” was released in a December report that promised more revelations would come.
Shame on Governor Cuomo for sending his own pet project to the gallows in exchange for yet even more political patronage, which the Moreland Commission was set up to investigate, prosecute and shut down.
As legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York, Barbara Bartoletti stated "the worst part of this is the campaign culture as we know it is not going to change at all.”