April 1, 2014
Under absolutely no circumstances should Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismantle a panel designed to root out public corruption in Albany. The work is too important — and the job is far from done.
The governor has suggested that he would end the work of the so-called “Moreland Commission” if lawmakers approve a budget with tougher anti-bribery laws, better oversight of the state Board of Elections and reforms.
But it’s clear that the state needs a full arsenal in fighting political corruption, which has been wildly pervasive for years and has greatly shaken the public’s confidence in government.
In fact, more than 30 lawmakers have faced ethical or legal charges since 2000, mainly from New York City but some from the Hudson Valley and western New York.
This year alone, a Buffalo-area assemblyman stepped down after allegations surfaced that he repeatedly sexually harassed female members on his staff. Just last week, federal investigators raided the home and offices of a Queens-based state assemblyman under investigation for possible misuse of the state’s reimbursement of travel and other expenses.
The Moreland Commission issued a scathing, overarching report late last year that showed how a “pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks” in Albany has been ruinous to the system. While the commission used specific examples, it didn’t name names, expecting to deliver a final report by the end of the year and refer its findings to law enforcement. At bare minimum, the state must let the panel complete these tasks.
The commission includes district attorneys, law enforcement officials and others, and Cuomo was right to work with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to set it in motion. The commission has submitted more than 200 subpoenas and “requests for information,” and has been in court fights to wrest more information from lawmakers if necessary.
New legislation apparently will give prosecutors more tools to go after bribery and corruption involving public officials and stiffen penalties for those found guilty of such crimes. The state’s incredibly weak efforts at enforcing campaign finance laws also will be bolstered, and a limited pilot program for public campaign will be approved.
But several good-government groups, including The Brennan Center for Justice, are saying these measures don’t go nearly far enough and are not ample reasons to shut down the Moreland Commission.
That is obviously true. Legislative reforms are great, but a problem this big needs widespread solutions and tactics, and that includes having the anti-corruption commission finish its work.