Commentary & Opinion
6:37 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Liz Benjamin: There's More(land) Where That Came From

It may be difficult for legislators to truly relax on their summer vacations this year, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest Moreland Act Commission about to swing into high gear.

Cuomo wasn't kidding when he said he planned to move quickly on convening the commission to investigate the state's woefully loophole riddled campaign finance system following the Legislature's failure to pass any anti-corruption reforms before the session's end late week (or early this weekend, given the Senate's Friday-to-Saturday all-nighter).

Liz Benjamin
Credit YNN, Capital Tonight

An executive order creating the commission is expected soon - perhaps as early as this week.

And Cuomo is reportedly weighing the appointment of a number of the state's district attorneys to the Moreland Commission - a move that would be in keeping with his initial proposal of the Public Trust Act, designed to beef up local prosecutors' ability to probe and punish dirty state lawmakers.

As of last week, Cuomo had not yet ruled out the possibility of merging his Moreland Commission with the state attorney general's office, which would give the body more power to directly investigate legislators.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo opted for that approach with his 1987 commission - eventually known as the Feerick Commission, in honor of its chairman, then-Fordham Dean John Feerick, who became a deputy attorney general for the duration of his work in this post.

The Feerick Commission probed the state's campaign finance laws, too, and proposed a battery of reforms that largely ended up ignored by the Legislature.

However, as the TU's Jimmy Vielkind reports today, the commission's recommendations did lead to the creation of a central database of campaign filings by the state Board of Elections.

That database is now on-line and also includes local campaign filings. It is an invaluable tool for reporters, good government advocates and gadflies - provided lawmakers, PACs and other committees actually abide by the rules and file, which is something NYPIRG has repeatedly demonstrated the state Board doesn't do all that much to insure occurs.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has noted on several occasions that he stands ready and willing to do more public corruption cases, but that would require a referral from the governor, which is something Cuomo - while eager to get more power when he was AG himself - is now reluctant to grant.

There is growing skepticism among Capitol observers that this latest version of the Cuomo Commission will be much more successful than his father's effort was.

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky last week questioned whether it would even be legal for the commission to target individual state lawmakers, noting the Moreland Act doesn't specifically allow for that. To do so would likely spark protest from legislators of the violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

And the Syracuse Post-Standard this morning castigated both the Legislature and Cuomo for failing to act on any anti-corruption measures, saying the Moreland Act Commission is a poor substitute for reform legislation and "will not be a slam-dunk" in cleaning up Albany.

The paper's editorial board would much prefer to see a special session to act on bills left on the table when lawmakers departed the Capitol - something that isn't yet out of the question, given Cuomo's track record on late-year action.

Sensitive to this criticism, the Cuomo administration is pointing to the success of the Moreland Act Commission that investigated the state's utility companies' response to Superstorm Sandy, the results of which were released over the weekend.

The report found evidence of "possible double billing" at LIPA by consulting firm Navigant, which now employs a number of the authority's former executives.

The commission plans to refer its findings to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to determine if criminal charges were warranted against LIPA officials or consulting firm.

Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing told the TU: "The governor's first Moreland Commission conducted a comprehensive investigation that has subsequently been referred to the U.S. Attorney's office. These results clearly show the strength of this tool and demonstrates the potential impact of a commission to examine public corruption in the Legislature."

The governor clearly wants to strike while the iron is hot, and will no doubt direct whoever sits on his commission to adopt an aggressive investigation schedule to produce results ASAP in hopes that its findings will end criticism of the lackluster end to the 2013 session.

Liz Benjamin is host of Capital Tonight on YNN. You can follow Capital Tonight all day long at capitaltonight.com.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.



So, lawmakers should enjoy their days off while they still can.

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