On July 2, 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo appointed the “Commission to Investigate Public Corruption” under the Moreland Act and Executive Law Section 63(8) to probe systemic corruption and the appearance of such corruption in state government, political campaigns and elections in New York State.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would appoint the members of the Commission as Deputy Attorneys General giving the Commission broad investigative authority to probe matters that “involve public peace, public safety and public justice”.
The Commission would have the power to issue subpoenas and examine witnesses under oath. They would be tasked with reviewing the adequacy of existing state laws, regulations and procedures involving unethical and unlawful misconduct by public officials and the electoral process and campaign finance laws. They would also examine whether existing laws and regulations have been fairly and vigorously enforced and what changes must be made to such enforcement. The Commission is directed to make recommendations to toughen and improve existing laws and procedures.
The Commission is comprised of 3 co-chairs and 22 members. It also includes 1 Special Counsel and 3 Special Advisors. The Commission will issue a preliminary report by December 1, 2013 and any additional report(s) by January 1, 2015.
Governor Cuomo announced he was disbanding the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, on March 29. The governor said at the time that in exchange for terminating the panel’s work, he had won tougher laws on bribery and corruption and improved enforcement of election laws.
The improved enforcement of election laws begins tomorrow.
The new compliance office for the state Board of Elections is designed to independently probe potential election law and campaign finance violations. For the past several years, the Board of Elections had no investigators on staff to enforce election laws. The unit was created as part of a deal to shut down Gov. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission.
The new compliance office is designed to independently probe potential election laws and campaign finance violations. It will be headed by Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman, who was appointed by Cuomo and served him during his days as governor and attorney general.
The unit will begin with three investigators, three lawyers and two support staff. For the past several years, the much-maligned Board of Elections has had no investigators on staff to enforce election laws.
The unit will also literally be walled off from the rest of the Board of Elections, agency spokesman John Conklin said. "They had state workers build a closed space for them, which will be a secure area that can only be accessed via their employee ID cards and excludes other board personnel," Conklin said.
Some government reformers are taking a wait-and-see attitude as to how effective the new unit will be. Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, called it "an interesting idea scotch-taped onto a completely dysfunctional agency." "Hope springs eternal, but Albany's had such a lousy record of enforcement with both ethics and campaign finance laws that New Yorkers should be skeptical," Horner said. "But we certainly hope they succeed."
It's unclear how many cases await Sugarman as she sets up shop Tuesday. The state Senate campaign for former City Controller John Liu last week said it filed a complaint claiming a political action committee controlled by a group of breakaway Senate Democrats who help control the chamber violated state spending limits by sending glossy mailings urging support for Queens Sen. Tony Avella in the Sept. 9 primary. A lawyer for the PAC denied any wrongdoing.
The unit was part of several ethics reforms the Legislature agreed to in late March in exchange for Cuomo's controversial decision to shut down his anti-corruption commission. That decision, as well as possible interference by top Cuomo aides into the work of the commission, is now being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
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