If corruption probe works, New York will never be the same

Andrew Cuomo has announced a Moreland Act Commission that will investigate legislative corruption and examine the role of money in politics. It’s really very simple. People give lots of money to politicians so that they can either get more money than they already have or as protection money to make sure their interests are safe. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that out. Prostitution may be the world’s oldest profession, but politics has to be a close second.

So what is the Moreland Act Commission going to do? If I were one of the members, I would make a long list of who had given the most to politicians. I’d ask them to give sworn testimony to the commission about what deals might or might not have been made. They should be asked, “What did you get or what did you expect to get for the money you gave the politicians?” If you can start to garner proof from other sources about the money that was given or promised and if you find that someone was lying under oath, people will start to face jail time because New York is a serious state when it comes to perjury. A lot of people have already gone to jail for lying under oath.

While governors have the right to appoint Moreland Act investigatory commissions, the problem has always been that one branch of the government (the executive branch) doesn’t have the right to investigate a co-equal branch of government (the legislative branch.) Cuomo handled this brilliantly. He brought his “frenemies” (sometimes friends, sometimes enemies) like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in on the Moreland Act Commission. Schneiderman appointed the members of the commission as assistant attorneys general and as such, they have the right to investigate wrongdoing in the Legislature. It’s sort of like the point in Wyatt Earp when the bad guy announces that Earp doesn’t have jurisdiction outside the town and Wyatt whips out his U.S. Marshall’s badge and says, “Yes, I do.”

Needless to say, the legislative leaders are not going to like this. Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, has already intimated that the whole thing is a witch hunt and the fix is in. Well, he made the deal with Cuomo that kept Skelos in power, even though the Senate Republicans have fewer votes than the Democrats do. Now he’s infuriated with Cuomo, his trading partner, for pushing his agenda through the threat of a Moreland Act Commission. Cuomo wants public campaign financing with taxpayer dollars to pay for elections. The Republicans don’t, and for good reason — they have more money.

Cuomo has collected a lot of money for his own political war chest. We hear $22 million. If, as Skelos puts it, the fix is in, the Cuomo war chest will be ignored. Who gave the governor money and why did they do it? At least one Republican member of the commission has already said that he intends to focus some attention on the governor’s fund raising. The governor says he’s fine with that.

If things get dirty, people will start to help the investigators along. There may be a lot of whistle blowing. That is, of course, if the effort is an honest one and not a joke. Remember the so-called JCOPE? The Joint Commission on Public Ethics was meant to be ground breaking ethics commission. It’s now being called “J-JOKE.” That fish stunk from the beginning. If this turns out to be a joke, too, the governor will develop a reputation for duplicity. On the other hand, if it works, New York will never be the same. Reform will sweep in and make a big difference. I can’t wait.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/10/13

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