Last year, after the New York State legislature failed to pass campaign finance and a year riddled with corruption scandals, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo empaneled an “independent” commission to pursue misconduct among public officials and make recommendations to changes to the state’s election and campaign fund-raising laws. The 25 member Moreland Commission was created last July to restore public trust in government. But nine months later, Gov. Cuomo shut it down. The governor claimed that with “the passage of new tougher laws on bribery and corruption, and improved enforcement of election law”, the commission was no longer needed.
That didn’t satisfy government watch dogs or some lawmakers. Nor did it satisfy Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose investigations had led to the commissions formation. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bharara contacted two of the commission’s three chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick and Milton L. Williams Jr. His suspicion was that Gov. Cuomo had shut down the commission for political expediency and because the commission’s investigation was getting to close to his office. It now appears that Mr. Bharara has really good instincts.
This week the New York Times broke with this extensive report:
With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.
The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.
Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.
“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:
“Pull it back.”
The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.
“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.
The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office.
Despite Gov, Cuomo’s denial and protestations that it was his commission to dismiss, Mr Bharara is taking over where the commission’s investigations. The lengthy article is a must read.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow roasted Gov. Cuomo in an extended segment that included an interview with Thomas Kaplan one of the three authors who wrote the NYT’s article.
The governor’s travails also caught the attention of The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart
Gov. Cuomo’s Democratic Primary opponent Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout has called for the governor to resign should these allegations prove true.
Also complicating his headaches, Gov. Cuomo had some of the commission members sworn in as deputy state attorneys general by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that calls into question his assertions that he had a right to interfere with the commission. Quite similar to late President Richard M. Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre when he ordered the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox fired after Mr. Cox issued subpoenas asking for copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office and authorized by Nixon as evidence.
Gov. Cuomo does have a lot of questions to answer and so far his answers have fallen very short.