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Queens Chronicle

First Moreland report rips Albany politics

Calls for changes to government ethics, criminal prosecution laws

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:24 am, Thu Dec 19, 2013.

Gov. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption quoted a recording purported to be embattled City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) last week as it reported preliminary findings on the state of money and influence in New York politics.

“Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that,” Halloran is alleged to have told an undercover investigator. “And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can’t get anything without the f---ing money.”

The commissioners, empaneled by Cuomo this past summer, tended to agree, and recommended numerous changes in ethics standards and criminal law to address corruption.

And in perhaps its most controversial recommendation, they call for public financing of campaigns for New York State offices.

“This report is a stinging indictment of our state’s porous laws and of many of the politicians, patrons and political players who protect and benefit by them,” Kathleen Rice, Nassau County District Attorney and a commission co-chairman, said.

Political reforms called for include:

• lowering the limit on campaign contributions to politicians and so-called party housekeeping accounts;

• stricter controls over personal use of campaign funds; and

• more disclosure of legislators’ outside income and its sources.

Those of a criminal nature include revised laws that make it easier to charge a politician with bribery, reform of immunity rules and harsher penalties.

Michelle Duffy, spokeswoman for the commission, said numerous investigations are ongoing.

“Some are in their infancy, some are full-fledged,” she said. Duffy said she was not at liberty to discuss the substance or status of numerous subpoenas being sought to further investigate state senators and Assembly members.

Lawyers representing individual legislators have attempted to quash the subpoenas, calling them an overreach and an overstepping of bounds by the executive branch.

The State Senate Republican Campaign Committee initially challenged subpoenas, but relented when the commission lowered its number of demands.

A call to the Albany office of the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee was returned by Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). Whyland said the committee already has complied with all requests

But only the committee.

“There is a world of difference between a subpoena to a party committee, which falls within the Moreland Commission’s mandate to examine campaign contributions and spending, and a subpoena that is a fishing expedition if you will, aimed at legislators and their lawful activities unconnected to campaign contributions,” Whyland said in a subsequent statement.

Back in November, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) chided his fellow legislators, saying all should fully comply. Avella was not backing off in a telephone conversation this past Friday.

“As elected officials we should have nothing to hide,” he said.

Avella said he does not begrudge legislators having outside income — the positions are officially part-time — but that those wanting to keep the sources private should possibly reconsider a career in public office.

The 100-plus page report makes repeated reference to the myriad investigations, indictments, arrests and convictions coming out of Albany in the last decade.

But few if any of the recent developments came as much of a surprise to St. John’s University Professor Brian Browne, the school’s assistant vice president of governmental relations; and Professor Michael Krasner, co-director of the Taft Institute for Government at Queens College.

“My first impulse was that it seemed to be an accurate depiction of the so-called ‘pay-to-play’ here in New York State,” Krasner said. “In examining some of the more recent episodes, [the report] suggests that what we have is not just a few malefactors. The recent indictments of the system [in Albany] seem to be borne out by the conclusions.”

“There’s really nothing new in the report,” Browne concurred.

Browne believes Gov. Cuomo probably has positioned himself well in terms of being sincere in his effort to clean up the process, particularly if he is at least partially interested in engaging in a power play with Silver.

While some including Cuomo have questioned the efficacy of a New York City-style public financing system for Albany, Brown hopes parts of recommended reform to not stand in the way of an overall reform package.

“Albany always seems to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.

Browne also pointed out that Cuomo himself has proven very adept at raising money in the current system that his own commission says is broken.

It could, Brown said, damage if not poison Cuomo’s relationship with the legislative Senate and Assembly.

“It may be an uncomfortable winter in Albany,” he said. “The governor and the Legislature have had a good relationship for three years. That could take a turn.”

Finally, many of the recommendations made by the commission would have to be voted on and passed by the legislature.

“It reinforces the idea that the foxes are guarding the hen house, and that they’ll be asked to vote in favor of the chickens,” Krasner said. “It’s a catch-22 you always have.”

Welcome to the discussion.