In an editorial Sunday, the day before the Moreland Commission released its preliminary report, we expressed the hope that it would call for public financing of elections. We’re happy to see it did, as well as a long list of ethics reforms needed to combat the culture of corruption that has taken root in Albany and eroded citizens’ faith in their state government.
Unfortunately, the commission hasn’t the power to make these changes on its own. Nor does Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Legislature must agree to them, and it has pointedly refused to in the past, including earlier this year when it rejected a reform package proposed by Cuomo — the very reason he appointed the commission.
The commission said that its investigation turned up ample evidence of Albany corruption in its manifold forms: “phantom health clinics ... pay-to-play arrangements, under-disclosed outside income, misuse of party ‘housekeeping accounts,’ potentially improper use of campaign funds, and more.” And it’s not just the illegal stuff. Kathleen Rice, co-chairwoman of the panel, said in an interview: “What is far more corrosive and pervasive is all the stuff they do that’s legal and shouldn’t be. It’s almost like: ‘Wait, what? You’re allowed to do that?’ ”
The commission did a great job of laying out the problems, and its proposed remedies are exactly what’s needed: lower limits for contributions, greater disclosure of legislators’ private law firm clients, greater disclosure of who contributes to politicians and political parties, and a new enforcement body (as William Fitzpatrick, another commission co-chairman, said, the Board of Elections’ enforcement is a joke).
The commission has been criticized by lawmakers for focusing on the Legislature and not investigating the executive branch. But, notwithstanding Alan Hevesi’s criminal actions while comptroller and David Paterson’s fine for soliciting free New York Yankees tickets while governor, the Legislature is where the problem lies. And Fitzpatrick has disputed the recent claim by a fellow commissioner that there was an understanding among commissioners that the fund-raising practices of Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who deputized the commission, were off-limits. Fitzpatrick said the panel’s purview includes the executive branch, and that it will keep investigating and following the money.
Looking into Cuomo’s and Schneiderman’s fund raising would give the commission more credibility and show it is serious about fulfilling its mandate. So would going forward with its legal fight to subpoena lawmakers’ financial records, and referring for prosecution cases where it has uncovered crimes, other things the commission has said it will do.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has a new book out about Teddy Roosevelt, “The Bully Pulpit.” Roosevelt was a progressive who fought corruption and ushered in an era of reform just over 100 years ago. Cuomo now has a chance to do the same, and the commission has given him a valuable blueprint. He should use it, as well as his own bully pulpit, to build the public support necessary to move a reluctant Legislature.