Just because Gov. Cuomo's Moreland Commission was doomed from the start doesn't mean the state can't take steps to end corruption.
Cuomo armed the Moreland Commission with subpoena power to investigate misconduct among public officials and then, after the investigation, propose changes to state election and campaign finance laws. Unfortunately, Cuomo's investigators don't seem qualified to handle the job. Among the most notable problems are its executive director, Regina Calcaterra, who according to the New York Daily News has been sued 17 times by the state Board of Elections for missing filing deadlines and whose law firm violated the $5,000 legal annual corporate campaign donation limit. Its co-chair, William Fitzpatrick of Onandaga County, has been shown by the Syracuse Post-Standard to have used campaign money to cover bar and restaurant tabs while traveling across the country, a violation of election law. Kathleen Rice, another commission co-chair, received nearly $300,000 in campaign donations from the law firm that employs Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which raises questions about how hard the commission would investigate Silver. Also, the New York Daily News has reported Rice received 72 complaints from the Board of Elections since 2006 about over-contributions and didn't prosecute a single complaint.
There should be little wonder legislators have pushed back against what they feel are undue intrusions into their private lives. The commission demanded information about outside income from lawmakers -many of whom are lawyers bound by attorney-client privilege. The lawmakers balked, and commission members haven't disclosed if they will pursue the matter in court. It's hard to square the commission's request for such information from lawmakers with the fact that published reports show Cuomo himself has quashed investigations into tax breaks for real estate developers who were big donors to Cuomo's campaign.
The commission is staffed with officials who themselves aren't upholding the very ethics laws they are investigating and now are catering to the governor's whims in the investigation.
If anyone in Albany has the desire, however, there have been reforms suggested that could remedy some of the state's ethics problems.
A campaign finance reform that reduces campaign maximums by 50 percent; closes the limited liability company loophole of $150,000 a year; apply the same restriction on corporate and union giving; cap the currently unlimited contributions to housekeeping accounts; cap intra-party transfers of funds; eliminate member item grants for community project funds, especially where there is a conflict of interest; and request disclosure of who is behind all campaign materials, as has been proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
It would also help to strengthen sanctions against those who act unethically. Actions include loss of pension for those with a felony conviction relating to their official duties suspension without pay pending an expulsion hearing where substantial evidence exists of a crime; mandatory repayment of illegal contributions and repayment of any bribes with damages, something which has also been proposed by Gov. Cuomo.
Finally, Cuomo has proposed banning the use of campaign contributions for personal use, whether it's to pay fines or for lifestyle expenses.
All of these changes make sense and should be implemented. They are, by the way, supported by state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and state Sen. Catharine Young.