When Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Moreland Commission this summer, in exasperation at the Legislature’s refusal to seriously address the issue of corruption in Albany, he promised it would be independent. But how can it be considered independent when it reports weekly to him and when it apparently has dropped planned subpoenas at his urging? That undermines its credibility, as the good-government group Common Cause pointed out Monday in a strongly worded letter to Cuomo.
The governor created the commission after lawmakers gave the cold shoulder to his comprehensive ethics reform proposal that included an opt-in public financing system for campaigns, stronger contribution limits and disclosure rules, and the creation of a truly independent election enforcement entity. These are necessary to address the big money and loose laws that are the roots of the corruption which has bedeviled Albany, with 30 legislators and other officials indicted, convicted or investigated for misconduct in the last few years.
Other Moreland Commissions have been used effectively in the past, by Govs. Mario Cuomo, Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, to investigate corruption and misconduct and initiate reforms in many areas of the public sector. This one started out encouragingly, with Cuomo’s promise of independence and a broad mandate to investigate public corruption, with the power to subpoena and examine witnesses under oath, as well as subpoena any necessary records.
But reality quickly set in when senators and assemblymen who are also lawyers refused the commission’s request to disclose their client lists, and both chambers hired attorneys to fight any such future efforts. And now cynicism is setting in, with reports that Cuomo is pulling strings at the commission, getting it to drop subpoenas of the Democratic State Committee, which he heads, and a New York City real estate board that includes some of his biggest donors.
The 25-member commission consists of many talented people, mostly district attorneys (who have been deputized by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman), and they have vitally important work to do for the people of this state. If they’re to be taken seriously, they must be allowed to do it free of interference from Cuomo or anyone else.