Moreland commission causes controversy for Governor Cuomo

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July 23, 2014

New York

By Kristen Mathews

Albany, New York: Governor Cuomo faced his own scandal on July 23, 2014, resulting from his alleged interference with a commission created in response to the increase in scandals in New York state politics.

On July 2, 2013, in response to an increase in state scandals, Cuomo set up the "Commission to Investigate Public Corruption," a state ethics commission to identify corruption in state politics. The investigators on the commission were to search for violations of campaign finance laws. The "Commission to Investigate Public Corruption" is also referred to as the "Moreland Commission."

After two months, the commission issued a subpoena to Buying Time, a media-buying firm, which had contracted millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party. Andrew Cuomo was a client of this firm which bought airtime for him during his 2010 campaign for governor.[1]

After Cuomo's senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, heard of the subpoena, he called William Fitzpatrick, one of the commission's three co-chairs, and told him to "pull it back." The subpoena was withdrawn and the panel's chief investigator e-mailed the other co-chairs to explain the situation stating "they apparently produced ads for the governor."[1]

An investigation by the The New York Times stated that the "governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him." The governor's office responded with a thirteen page document which stated that "while he allowed the commission the independence to investigate whatever it wanted, it would have been a conflict for a panel he created to investigate his own administration."[1]

While Cuomo originally stated the investigation would be independent, he maintains that he had the right to monitor and direct the work of the commission. Cuomo had intended the commission run for 18 months, but disbanded the panel halfway through the term. Federal investigators are looking into the role of Cuomo in the panel's shutdown as well as looking into the unfinished investigative work.[1]

After the commission's release of a preliminary findings report, Cuomo and the New York State Legislature agreed to a collection of ethics reforms. The Times investigation claimed that "Cuomo personally suggested a way to squeeze members of the Legislature into enacting ethics-reform measures: by issuing subpoenas to the law firms where many legislators earn sizable incomes for part-time work." The reforms that resulted were much lighter than the commission's recommendations. Cuomo called the commission a success.[1][2][3][4]

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