It really should be no surprise that the state budget deal, cut less than three weeks ago behind closed doors, eliminated the Moreland-type Commission that was investigating public corruption in the political cesspool that has become Albany. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced nine months ago the naming of the 25-member commission – many didn’t think it would accomplish much in what has become an ethically challenged culture.
Yet within those nine months, the commission began to do the unexpected – it issued subpoenas and, despite some protest (more on that Friday) started to look at the issues that made some, including, possibly, the governor, start to sweat. The commission was set up as a way for Cuomo to look like he was doing something about ethics in Albany, especially after a series of indictments by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who asserted that corruption in Albany was “rampant” and “pervasive.”
Cuomo demanded, with little or no debate, the adoption of a series of ethics reforms by the Assembly and Senate. When the Legislature didn’t cave in to his demand, the governor appointed the type of commission that first arose nearly a century ago when then-Gov. Charles Evans Hughes appointed the first Moreland Commission. Over the decades, similar commissions have been appointed, including one by Gov. Mario Cuomo, with virtually the same results — a series of recommendations, few, if any, indictments, and a report that rests on a shelf with little activity other than collecting dust.
Maybe the newest Moreland creation took that criticism to heart and instead of being “just another” commission, issued 200 subpoenas, started calling witness and talked about making referrals for possible prosecutions. The commission issued an interim report in December that was highly critical of Albany, especially the “widespread compliance apathy” when it comes to monitoring elected behavior, whether it be not filing reports or, more importantly, investigating gross omissions of information. The commission’s next report was to be issued by Jan. 1, 2015, and some felt that such report, even after the 2014 elections, might result in ethics reform next spring.
But the governor and Legislature, some of whom challenged the power of the commission to issue subpoenas, cut a deal to eliminate the commission in exchange for new ethics legislation. Cuomo has not flatly denied that getting rid of the commission was part of a “trade” to get an on-time budget deal.
The new legislation has two main problems, among many. It falls far short of what Cuomo demanded last spring – for example, one major item that seems to have been left off the table was stopping officials convicted of using their office for personal gain from keeping their state pensions. Secondly it will be the state Board of Elections that will now have responsibilities for ethics enforcement — the same organization that has “effectively led to a tacit, bipartisan agreement to do nothing, when it comes to holding candidates, parties and independent organizations accountable,” according to the Moreland Commission’s December report. So much for cleaning up Albany.
NEXT: Moreland may still haunt Albany