In the battle over reform after a year of unprecedented skullduggery in Albany, the state’s anti-corruption commission on Wednesday agreed to narrow the scope of part of its investigation in the face of continued opposition in the Legislature.
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption agreed to drop elements of its subpoena to the Senate’s Republican campaign committee, including its demand for internal correspondence. In return, the committee agreed to drop its attempt to quash the subpoena and hand over a number of records, including those for its so-called housekeeping account.
The deal avoids a constitutional showdown in court that would have tested the power of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commission to investigate the Legislature and gives the commission access to accounts that good-government groups see as a major loophole in regulating money in politics because of the wide latitude parties are afforded to spend the donated money.
“Cooperation and reason prevailed,” stated the chairmen of the Moreland commission.
The Senate Republican Campaign Committee said the corruption commission’s subpoena was “extremely broad and intrusive” and was a violation of the separation of powers protection.
“In light of the commission’s offer to withdraw most of its demands, the SRCC has agreed to produce a limited set of documents,” said Michael Chertoff, lawyer for the Senate campaign committee.
Several individual lawmakers continue to fight the corruption commission’s search for records which could tie political contributions to policy and spending votes, the crux of most recent federal cases.
Cuomo said Wednesday that the Republican committee’s agreement guts the legislators’ argument that the commission is reaching beyond its constitutional authority. The Senate Republicans, the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference and the Assembly’s Democratic majority continue to oppose the Moreland commission’s attempt to extract lists of private law firm clients served by the part-time legislators.
“I think it’s a terrible mistake for the Legislature to fight the Moreland commission,” Cuomo said Wednesday on the “Capitol Pressroom” on public radio. “I think it confirms the cynicism about Albany.”
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos responded that “anyone with a basic understanding of the constitution” knows separation of powers is “an important part of our democracy.” Skelos said the Democratic governor shouldn’t comment on the legal issue now in state court.
The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee didn’t contest the commission’s demand for housekeeping account records, but remains opposed to other demands.
“There is a world of difference between a subpoena to a party committee, which falls within the Moreland commission’s mandate to examine campaign contributions and spending, and a subpoena that is a fishing expedition” aimed at legislators’ lawful activities, said Assembly majority spokesman Michael Whyland.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed 62 percent of voters feel state government is dysfunctional and 82 percent felt government corruption is “very serious” or “somewhat serious” in Albany. Most voters say Cuomo is responsible for cleaning up Albany. Twenty-four percent of voters felt he was doing so mainly “to pressure the Legislature into supporting his agenda.” An additional 19 percent felt he was acting mainly to reduce corruption, while 55 percent said they had no opinion on his motivations.
Quinnipiac questioned 1,337 voters from November 20 through Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.