Following a legislative session in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers were unable to agree on a package of bills designed to crack down on government corruption, the governor today rolled out a 25-member Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. The bipartisan panel, which he created under the state’s Moreland Act, to investigate “public corruption and the appearance of such corruption in state government, political campaigns and elections” in New York.
Cuomo said in a statement that he was compelled to take action after “several recent proven and alleged incidents of corruption and misconduct by public officials that have shown that current laws are inadequate and reforms are necessary to guard against abuses, ensure accountability in government, address the need for reform in our campaign finance laws and restore the public’s confidence and trust in state government and state elections.” Four state lawmakers were either arrested or charged with new corruption-related charges in recent months.
“This session, I put forward the most comprehensive and aggressive legislative package Albany has seen in decades to address the corrosive influence of money in elections, strengthen prosecutors’ ability to fight corruption, increase penalties against those who violate the public trust, and give voters more access to the ballot box,” the governor said. “From the beginning, I said I would not accept a watered-down approach to cleaning up Albany and that the Legislature must either pass this legislative package or I would empanel an investigative commission tasked with accomplishing these same goals to achieve reform.”
Yesterday, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said Cuomo should not be engaging in a political “witch hunt” with the commission, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported.
The government corruption panel includes former U.S. attorneys, district attorneys and policy experts in elections, including Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe. The district attorneys of Nassau and Onondaga counties—Kathleen Rice and William Fitzpatrick, respectively—and Milton Williams Jr., a partner with the law firm Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, are chairing the panel.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he will appoint the committee members as deputy attorneys general, meaning they will have broad authority to probe all matters that “involve public peace, public safety and public justice.” They will be able to subpoena and examine witnesses under oath and subpoena any necessary records.
Schneiderman said in a statement that the commission “will be able to conduct a top to bottom investigation of New York State’s government, and move us forward to repair our broken political process, strengthen our representative democracy and give New Yorkers the quality of leadership they deserve.”
In addition to reviewing the adequacy of existing state laws and regulations regarding unethical and unlawful conduct by public officials, the government corruption commission will examine whether they have been “fairly and vigorously enforced” and whether changes are needed. The panel will issue a preliminary report by Dec. 1, 2013.