Is the Moreland Commission another toothless tiger?

The Moreland Act Commission was established by Governor Andrew Cuomo to root out corruption in New York state government. It falls in with other attempts by the governor, he says, to try to get the Albany political scene into some semblance of a responsive, democratic government. Everyone knows that when someone gives a legislator or a governor a load of money, they want something back for it. The governmental process is clearly out of control. But was the governor actually serious in establishing the commission, or was he just putting on an anti-corruption play of some kind?

When the commissioners questioned Cuomo about the money in his own campaign coffers — over $29 million — he told them to follow the money no matter where it led. The commission was to be independent and there was to be no political interference. It is led by a Republican, William Fitzpatrick; a Democrat, Kathleen Rice; and a third chair, Milton L. Williams Jr., appointed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. It has an executive director who, interestingly enough, has a previous working relationship with Cuomo.

The commission has the right to subpoena records and testimony from anyone in and around state government. Among other things, they sent out a letter asking legislators to tell exactly what they were doing for the “outside” money that people were paying them. They also prepared subpoenas for lobbying groups and others that had given large amounts of money to the governor and legislators. Unfortunately, despite the protestations of the governor that the Moreland Act Commission was to be free to follow the money and the stench of corruption, Ken Lovett, now recognized by many as the top political reporter in Albany, broke a major story that the Governor’s Office had started to send in plays to the commission. Examples: the real estate industry group that had supplied money to the governor’s campaign war chest was not to be subpoenaed. The legislators who were being targeted were not to be subpoenaed. Sources indicate that the governor wanted to empanel the commission in order to scare the hell out of the Legislature, but not to the point that there would be real war.

I’ve been hearing a lot from the so-called “goo-goo” (good government) groups. The message I have been getting is that the governor has been interfering in the work of the Moreland Act Commission and that he never really meant it to work in the first place. One of these top sources told me that this fits in nicely with other Cuomo programs, where the governor got credit for doing the right thing, but in the end, his programs actually turned out to be less than effective. Before he became governor, he said that he would veto a bill allowing the legislators to gerrymander their own districts, but once he was elected, he didn’t do it. And then he appointed the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) that has, by almost everyone’s estimation, turned out to be a toothless tiger.

The suspicion is that Cuomo doesn’t really want to bring government to heel but would like to appear to want that, and maybe, to control the way things work. Frankly, I was surprised when he appointed the Moreland Act Commission. That would have been a big risk. He put some top commissioners to work. Some of the most ethical people in the state are on the commission. They are not going to have anything to do with a phony operation. Cuomo has got to be worrying that this will be a runaway commission and they will really follow the money. At that point anything could happen.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10-15-13

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One Comment on “Is the Moreland Commission another toothless tiger?”

  1. Harvey Brody Says:

    The quick answer is yup. The long answer is Andrew is no Mario. Mario was a governor who never forgot working in the family grocery store in Hollis, Queens, and struggling to earn enough money to go both to St. Johns as an undergraduate and then to complete with distinction at St. Johns law school. Andrew never had to really work at anything because of his family and dad being Secretary of State when he decided to get into politics. his has much to do with the Moreland Commission. In NY we have a prolific state constitution, unlike the other states., As to the original question, if we need a Moreland Commission to identify or rather confirm the ongoing work of the Comptroller, we must consider if we need an Attorney General, since the Moreland Commission is duplicative of the functionality and direct responsibility of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit, and ironically several of the members including Albany County DA Soares also have a public integrity unit. Of course is this Moreland Commission an attempt to control the outcome and enable our Governor to avoid being more than a subject of criticism? After all our Governor likes to play the role of John Travolta when not Governor with his GTO and his motorcycle. Now the reason for the quick answer is that this was a knee jerk action of Andrew. Yes Virginia there is corruption in NYS Government. Not too long ago former Albany DA Greenberg would publically say he left the corruption to the State and would never investigate or prosecute. His elected replacement would like to but has never received the funds to do so from Andrew. Now the important question that the press has answered is that the Moreland Commission is more fluff than creditable. However because we have a toothless Moreland Commission the Fourth Estate is having a field day identifying corruption that DAs like Cy Vance are having a field day with. So whether he realizes or not the Moreland Commission has seeded the identification of fraud and corruption , which both the Eastern and Northern US Attorneys are taking notes. The parallel is what happened when Fabino Palomino was placed in charge of the Javits Center. An affable friend of Mario was hardly the best administrator but the republic US Attorney Giuliani say the opportunity, and did an excellent job cleaning the corruption of the Javits Center. Thus will be a parallel of unanticipated circumstances for the creator of the latest Moreland Commission.

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