This morning at the New York State Capitol, Governor Andrew Cuomo made good on his promise to establish a powerful investigative body to examine the state Board of Elections and potential wrongdoing by legislators in campaign fundraising.
Unable to sway legislators to agree on a package of campaign finance and legislative ethics reforms before the end of session last month, Governor Cuomo made it clear he intended to tackle public corruption in a year that has already seen several sitting state legislators indicted on federal corruption charges.
This morning he announced the formation of a commission, established under New York's Moreland Act, that will have the subpoena power necessary to investigate what some call New York's "broken campaign finance system."
Cuomo's Commission to Investigate Public Corruption is chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and attorney Milton Williams. It includes prosecutors, lawyers, State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Albany County D.A. David Soares.
The panel will have broad investigative powers to probe not-for-profits and member items, commonly referred to as “pork,” and Cuomo says it wouldn't surprise him if the commission finds violations of the state’s election laws.
Cuomo stressed that the commission will not engage in a “witch hunt," a term used by New York State Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos when asked about the commission prior to its announcement. Cuomo also said the panel will be adequately funded.
David Grandeau is the former executive director of the New York State Lobby Commission, the ethics panel that preceded the current Joint Commission on Public Ethics, known as JCOPE. He thinks Cuomo may be using the wrong tool to try to fix a broken system.
Areas where the Commission will focus its investigation include but are not limited to:
· Criminal statutes for corruption and misconduct by public officials, such as bribery laws
· Campaign financing including but not limited to contribution limits and other restrictions; disclosure of third-party contributions and expenditures; and the effectiveness of existing campaign finance laws.
· Compliance of outside organizations and persons with existing lobbying laws, including but not limited to organizations engaged in lobbying and other efforts to influence public policies and elections, and the effectiveness of such laws.
· Adequacy and enforcement of the State’s election laws and electoral process including: the structure and composition of the State and County Boards of Elections, the Board of Elections’ enforcement, and the effectiveness of and compliance with existing election laws.
During its investigation, the Commission is mandated to promptly communicate any evidence of violations of existing law to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Attorney General. In such cases, the State Police will make jurisdictional referrals to the Attorney General where appropriate.
The Governor says the commission will issue a preliminary report on its initial findings and recommendations by December 1, 2013.