April 13, 2014
Our opinion: The work of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption was hardly over before Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut it down. What gives?
What is the public to make of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to suspend his Moreland Commission on Public Corruption?
Are we to believe that in a mere nine months, the commission cleaned up New York government and politics to Mr. Cuomo’s satisfaction? Or is it really that in the face of legislative intransigence, Mr. Cuomo gave up, having achieved precious little in the way of reform?
Either way, it is heartening to know that at least two leaders refuse to accept the idea that corruption qualifies as business as usual in New York.
There’s Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who rejects the paltry excuse for campaign finance reform that Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders came up with. Mr. DiNapoli says he won’t participate in a slapdash scheme of public financing that would be limited to the state comptroller’s race this fall. This purported pilot program would be assembled — with the election season already under way — by the same state Board of Elections that the Moreland Commission found can’t even handle the jobs already on its plate.
It doesn’t take a hardened skeptic to imagine that Mr. DiNapoli is not so much a test case as a sacrificial lamb for a governor who hasn’t been able to bring the state’s independent-minded fiscal watchdog to heel. Nor does it take a conspiracy theorist to suspect that this rushed experiment is designed for failure.
But where are all the other things the commission has called for: lower contribution limits, tighter rules on personal use of campaign funds, a truly independent election and campaign finance law enforcement agency, and an end to the loopholes that allow obscene amounts of money to flow to candidates, elected officials, and political parties?
Was all that just too much for Mr. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein to squeeze into the sausage casing of the state budget, as if good government was just another optional piece of pork?
And why the abrupt shuttering of the commission after the passage of a few tweaks in the ethics rules that hardly qualify as comprehensive reform? Was all this just for show?
Fortunately, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is wondering much the same thing. Mr. Bharara, who has taken on some of the corruption in the Legislature and elsewhere in government, plans to pick up the commission’s work, including its unfinished cases. He also wants to know why the commission was, as he put it, “disbanded before its time,” and whether Mr. Cuomo traded the fight against corruption for short-term political gain.
It at least appears, he wrote in a letter to commission officials, “that investigations potentially significant to the public interest have been bargained away as part of the negotiated arrangement between legislative and executive leaders.”
No doubt Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders will say they accomplished so much that the commission was no longer necessary.
Oh, come now. Mr. Bharara would do well not to accept such obvious spin as the final word.