April 13, 2014
Nothing good can come from a situation in which two smart guys both miss the point. The confusion and anger surrounding the demise of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruptionis a consequence of sloppy thinking and convenient, if wrongheaded, attitudes by both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Cuomo defends the trading of the commission for new anti-corruption laws as both appropriate and intended. Wrong. Moreland investigations are not bargaining chips. They are not to be horse-traded to force legislators to agree with the governor. They are, by law, serious inquiries into wrongdoing in the Executive Branch, so that governors may clean up their own house. If wrongdoing is discovered, the governor should take steps, including criminal referrals to stop it. That didn’t happen.
Bharara believes that specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing is getting buried in the governor’s disbanding of the commission, thereby making the culture of corruption worse. Wrong-ish. The problem in Albany and elsewhere is not that real thieves are getting away with bribery and theft; the laws and investigations are already strong. The problem is that most of the “corrupt” dealing is perfectly legal.
The overwhelming majority of elected officials in Albany are not breaking any laws. But the huge amounts of money raised, primarily by the governor but also by the comptroller, the attorney general and the Legislature, is not given by people whose primary motivation is the public good. The checks are written by people who expect that it will benefit them by assuring they get their way from the government. But it’s perfectly legal.
Do you think that the groups supporting gay marriage gave the large sums they gave to encourage a thorough and balanced debate? Do you really believe that the corporate interests that funded the Cuomo television campaign didn’t care if he backed off the corporate tax cuts that are now law? They gave in the expectation that their position would become law. They believed right.
The reliance on wealthy donors making huge contributions is not an exercise in civic responsibility. It is intended to, and does, affect the laws that are proposed by the governor and enacted by the Legislature. From Cuomo, it would be great to hear that the problem is not just the small number of legislators who steal, it’s the fact that he raised his impressive $33 million by going to people who want and expect him to protect their interests. From Bharara, it would be great to hear that Citizens United and McCutcheon must be reversed, and that in the interim only public campaign financing will have a practical effect on the “culture of corruption” in New York.
Cuomo has a real opportunity to turn this political mess into a political advantage. He could use his considerable skills in support of a law that included the governor in the 2014 campaign finance law that came out of the budget. After all, he was perfectly content to apply it to the statewide comptroller’s race.
Bharara has a real opportunity to use his hard-earned credibility to force the discussion into a crusade against legal corruption. He’s done a good job of ferreting out the idiots and felons. And the system still cruises on with tens of millions in political/financial transactions by people who demand and receive the things they want. He can do better. The pursuit of money dominates state politics, especially in statewide races. I experienced it, everybody knows it, and it’s a bad, degrading and dangerous system.
Until the governor and U.S. attorney get together on the real problem, it’s unlikely to change.