Dec 4th - 4:49 pm
Executive District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick re-asserted on Wednesday the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption remained free of influence by either Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Fitzpatrick, in an interview with YNN Syracuse’s Bill Carey, said he disagreed with Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s contention in an interview this week on Capital Tonight that a Moreland probe of either Cuomo or Schneiderman would make a “mockery” of the process.
“I’m not sure if Joanie were asked today she would give the same answer,” he said.
Fitzpatrick in the interview went back to July, when the commission was first formed, saying that at the time he answered questions about Moreland’s independence.
“I haven’t had any conversations with the governor that say, hey, I’m off limits or any conversations with the attorney general,” he said. “To me, they’ve both been cooperative as far as I’m concerned.”
He added that simply because Cuomo and Schneiderman aren’t in the report doesn’t prove the commission hasn’t looked into their own campaign finances.
“And just because they’re not mentioned in the report should not be construed to mean we didn’t look at fundraising by the governor and by the attorney general,” Fitzpatrick said. “But by the fact they’re not in the report it would indicate at this point we haven’t found anything that was improper or illegal or unethical.”
Dec 2nd - 6:10 pm
This post has been updated throughout.
The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s 101-page preliminary report was released Monday evening with a majority of its commissioners, among other reforms, recommending a system of publicly financed campaigns be adopted statewide.
In a separate “dissent” seven commission members called the conclusions by the commission on public financing “significantly flawed.” The commission was formed in July after Cuomo and the state Legislature failed to agree on any ethics reform legislation following a spate of corruption arrests earlier this year.
The commission and members of the Legislature are still locked in a legal battle over the authority of the commission issuing subpoenas to learn more infomration on their private business interests and clients.
Seven members of the 25-member Moreland Commission on Public Corruption signed on to a three-page dissent that expressed doubts on whether public financing would be a viable option for New York.
In a pointed rebuttal of the benefits of public financing, the dissent references Sen. Malcolm Smith, under indictment for allegedly seeking a spot on the Republican ballot for mayor through bribery.
“Adoption of public financing would not prevent this type of abuse and thus the commission should not endorse it on the erroneous belief it would be a solution,” the dissenters write.
The dissenting members included Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, district attorneys Frank Sedita, Kristy Sprague, Derek Champagne and Kate Hogan, along with attorney Eric Corngold and former GOP Chairman Pat Barrett.
Mahoney is a Republican ally of Cuomo’s, as is Barrett, currently the chairman of the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
They write the majority of the commission’s assertion that public finance would alleviate campaign finance problems is “significantly flawed.”
“Anytime taxpayer funds are expended, the burden is on those who wish to spend those funds prove the benefits are worth the cost. We do not believe that burden has been satisfied,” the dissenters wrote.
The dissent focuses on New York City’s system of publicly financed elections, pointing to the flood of money that still flows in city elections despite a system of publicly financed campaigns and donor matching funds.
They draw attention to the so-called super PAC New York Progress, funded by labor organizations to knock Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota spent more than $1 million.
“Simply put, public financing has done little to stop the importance of large sums of money from politically and financially powerful groups,” the commission members said.
The dissent’s argument will likely be wielded by opponents of a public financing — namely Senate Republicans — in the coming weeks should any effort to adopt the Moreland Commission’s recommendations be made.
In addition to public financing of political campaigns, the panel makes recommendations that include:
- Better disclosure and monitoring of independent expenditure groups that have exploded in recent years,
- Limiting the use of campaign funds by politicians and political organizations
- Lowering contributions, closing loopholes as well as limiting transfers from political parties to campaigns
Meanwhile, the commission also recommends the creation of an independent law enforcement agency for election law, tightening bribery and other corruption laws.
The preliminary report does not single out specific officeholders for wrongdoing or accuse them of cutting corners by taking advantage of existing loopholes, insisting such a move would compromise ongoing investigations.
“Many of the specifics from our active investigations, such as names and identifying details, cannot be shared in this Preliminary Report without compromising the integrity and confidentiality of those investigations. What we can describe, though, is deplorable conduct, some of it perfectly legal yet profoundly wrong; some of it potentially illegal – and, indeed, this Commission will make appropriate criminal referrals at such time as it deems appropriate.”
The main document’s executive summary concludes the commission’s investigation work will continue.
“The Commission will proceed with our ongoing investigations as we continue to follow the money. We will also continue to consider new policy areas where reform can bring greater transparency, accountability, and integrity to our governing bodies,” the commission says.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports a system of publicly financed campaigns, but so far has been unable to convince Republicans in the Senate to approve the measure.
Nov 25th - 1:21 pm
An overall of the top ethics regulator in New York is needed so that staffers of the executive or legislative branch don’t wind up running its day-to-day operations, the New York Public Interest Research Group said in a report issued Monday.
At the same time, the good-government group is calling attention to a little-known loophole in state law that if closed would limit the flow of campaign cash raised for a state race to a federal-level super PAC.
The report lays out NYPIRG’s wish list as to were for the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption to take up in its preliminary report due to be released next month.
At the same time, NYPIRG is calling on an end to fundraisers in Albany during the legislative session.
“We believe this is an historic opportunity to build the case, to make the case, that Albany’s too-often pay-to-play culture needs to be changed,” NYPIRG legislative director Blair Horner said a news conference at the Capitol.
The commission, created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is grappling with the Legislature over the extent of its power to subpoena their outside income and business clients.
But some of the NYPIRG recommendations touch on Cuomoland as well.
The Wall Street Journal reported this month that Cuomo would take some of his nearly $30 million war chest and transfer it to a federal level super PAC (Cuomo told The Buffalo News last week that he wasn’t running for president).
“If a candidate has a lot of money in the bank account and is proposing a run for a federal office, this will have to stay in New York state, they’ll have to close down their state committee and this money can’t be transferred to help at any level of government,” said NYPIRG researcher Bill Mahoney.
The state’s top ethics watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, appointed in October a new executive director who has worked in the governor’s office and earlier for him when he was attorney general.
Some JCOPE commission members — those not appointed by Cuomo, specifically — were uncomfortable with the appointment of Letizia Tagliafierro, following the resignation of Ellen Biben, the governor’s former inspector general.
“We believe the structure of JCOPE needs to be overhauled,” Horner said. “It has to be clear that public officials cannot sit on the board, on the commission itself. We would like to see a revolving door limit so that staff that are either in the executive or legislative branches are unable to become the executive director of JCOPE or the Legislative Ethics Commission.”
Nov 22nd - 3:11 pm
This post has been updated.
The politically connected law firm Harris Beach on Friday filed with state Supreme Court today to quash a subpoena from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission seeking more information on Sen. Michael Nozzolio’s outside income and law clients than what is currently revealed under state law.
But more broadly the Harris Beach filing takes on the commission’s jurisdictional authority over investigating the Legislature as a whole, knocking the Moreland Act-empowered panel for being nothing more than a “fishing expedition.”
“To interpret the Moreland Act as granting the Executive Branch jurisdiction to investigate the Legislature would result in plain contravention of New York’s separation of powers doctrine,” according to the filing.
Nozzolio, a western New York Republican, is a longtime counsel at the firm.
Updated: The firm Hiscock and Barclay also filed a motion to have its subpoena, leveled at partner and GOP Assemblyman Will Barclay, to be tossed out.
The filing states the subpoena “is overly broad, unduly burdensome and oppressive.”
Hiscock and Barclay also employ Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin, but he does not appear to have been the target of a subpoena. Breslin has said he would divulge his client list.
The Moreland Commission, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the governor have maintained the commission has the jurisdiction to investigate public corruption in the Legislature. The panel was deputized by Schneiderman in order to work around the separation of powers issue.
In the filing, Harris Beach attorney Karl Sleight argues the subpoena seeking more information from the law firm on Nozzolio’s activities violates the state’s Constitution and separation of powers.
“The Subpoena is invalid because it was issued by a Commission created by Governor Cuomo in excess of the his jurisdiction under the Moreland Act,” Sleight wrote in the filing. “The Commission’s objective to investigate the Legislature blatantly violates New York’s separation of powers doctrine. Further, the Subpoena itself improperly pursues indirectly through Harris Beach what the Commission is forbidden from pursuing directly from Senator Nozzolio.”
Sleight, of course, is a former executive director of the New York State Ethics Commission from 2001 through 2007 and served as a deputy attorney general.
The filing also takes direct aim at the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s purpose: Namely that it is really meant to force the Senate and Assembly to the bargaining table for an ethics deal.
“Coercive tactics aside, because the Commission was formed for an unlawful purpose — to allow the Executive Branch to investigate the Legislature — any such jurisdiction it seeks to assert over Harris Beach directly and Senator Nozzolio indirectly is unlawful,” Sleight wrote.
In a separate statement released by Harris Beach, Sleight said “it is ironic” that the commission seeking to investigate corruption “blatantly disregards the sacrosanct relationship of clients and their attorneys.”
“Allowed to continue unfettered, this far-a-field inquiry would adversely impact every individual and business in New York,” Sleight said in the statement. “The latest chapter of this wayward commission is another clumsy exchange that has only served to raise new ethics concerns about the government, and not solve them.”
Nov 18th - 1:59 pm
The New York Public Interest Research Group on Monday lodged a complaint with ethics regulators over what it believes is an increase in lobby by the state’s political parties.
In the letter to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics Executive Director Letizia Tagliafierro, the good-government group notes that advocacy on specific issues by political parties isn’t anything new, but has seen a resurgence as of late.
The state Democratic Comittee this year spent heavily on an advertising campaign supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda. The campaign — which featured nearly $6 million worth of advertising raised mostly through the party’s soft-money account — was seen as one that supplanted the defunct Committee to Save New York, a coalition of business and labor that registered as a lobbying entity.
“We believe that certain activities of the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Working Families political parties have been oriented toward passage of state legislation and may be considered lobbying under the definition contained in the state’s Lobbying Law,” wrote NYPIRG’s Blair Horner and Russ Haven. “We can find no exception to the requirement that those entities register as lobbyists and report their lobbying as required under state law.”
NYPIRG doesn’t just point to Democratic Party efforts.
Minor parties like the Conservative and Working Families parties have also made efforts to lobbying lawmakers on specific issues. The Conservative Party has released memos backing specific legislative matters, while the labor-backed WFP has registered a policy arm, the Working Families Organization as a lobbying entity.
“While we cannot be sure, we assume that such reporting ensures compliance with the state’s Lobbying Law,” Horner and Haven write. “If so, it shows that this entity views lobbying registration and reporting requirements as applicable to political parties.”
Calls for ethics investigations aren’t limited to NYPIRG. The state Democrats have called for an ethics probe of Republican Chairman Ed Cox for his advocacy of hydrofracking and his financial ties to the energy industry.
Election law doesn’t require state parties and committees to divulge their donors as frequently as the state’s lobbying laws, which are done on a quarterly basis.
“We believe that certain activities of the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Working Families political parties have been oriented toward passage of state legislation and may be considered lobbying under the definition contained in the state’s Lobbying Law,” NYPIRG writes in the letter. “We can find no exception to the requirement that those entities register as lobbyists and report their lobbying as required under state law.”
Nov 8th - 4:47 pm
In a public radio interview that will air in full this weekend, one of the three Moreland Commission co-chairs, Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick, says the anti-corruption commission has uncovered criminal activity during its investigation of New York’s Byzantine campaign finance system and will be referring its findings for prosecution.
“We have subpoena power and law enforcement power,” Fitzpatrick told Grant Reeher, host of WRVO’s Campbell Conversations. “If we discover criminality – and I can tell you without being tantalizing, I can tell you that we have – we will refer that to the appropriate prosecutorial agency.”
Fitzpatrick did not elaborate, so we’ll have to wait until Reeher’s interview airs in full Sunday night at 6 p.m. on WRVO.
But that small tidbit is probably more than enough to get the rumor mill churning in Albany (not to mention San Juan, Puerto Rico), and also perhaps put some legislators and campaign contributors on edge.
The Moreland Commission is scheduled to make its preliminary report next month, and its final report is to be filed in January 2015.
That means absent some sort of deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders – as has been speculated, but also shot down by Senate Republicans – on an ethics package that enables the governor to shut down the commission, it will be continuing its work through the 2014 legislative session and campaign season, which could very well put a damper on things down at the Capitol in terms of progress on anything other than the budget.
Fitzpatrick also told Reeher that next year will be difficult for New Yorkers as the commission uncovers additional wrongdoing. (This is paraphrased and not a direct quote). Though there has been a lot of reporting about the commission’s lack of indendence from Cuomo, it recently started to flex its muscles, sending out subpoenas that were initially held back.
It appears most of the political committees that received the subpoenas plan to comply, with the exception of the Senate Republicans, who moved to quash the one sent to their housekeeping account.
The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos had a rare face-to-face meeting this week, which could be a sign that the two sides are trying to work out some sort of truce that they will eventually extend to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and IDC Leader Jeff Klein.
Nov 6th - 4:49 pm
From our colleagues at YNN Rochester:
Four people formerly connected to area local development corporations were arraigned on multiple charges in State Supreme Court.
Sources confirmed to YNN on Tuesday that the charges are in connection with the attorney general’s probe of LDCs. However, most of the charges were not read aloud in court.
Bob Wiesner, the husband of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, faces two charges.
Former chief information officer for the county, Nelson Rivera, is charged with six counts in the indictment. Rivera resigned from his job with the county in October.
Navitech owner John Maggio is facing grand larceny and other charges.
Meanwhile, Dan Lynch has 25 charges lodged against him in the indictment, including some felonies. Lynch was arrested in October and accused of forging contracts between his former employer under a county printer contract. The taxpayer money was allegedly used to buy a tent package at the 2008 Senior PGA.
All four men pleaded not guilty to the charges and all but Lynch were released on their own recognizance. Lynch was remanded to county jail on $25,000 bail.
In a statement announcing the arrests, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman provided more information on the indictment, which alleges the men steered the process for awarding Monroe County contracts to preferred vendors.
“The process for awarding contracts is supposed to be fair, competitive, and unbiased. Sadly, our investigation found that some local officials abused this crucial responsibility and rigged the process to steer county funds to favored corporations that spent money on country club golf outings, expensive sporting events, and political contributions,” Schneiderman said. “Cases like this only serve to undermine the public’s trust in government and the way it awards contracts—making it all the more important that we continue to work with Comptroller DiNapoli to crack down on the abuse of public funds and brazen political corruption we’ve seen here and across the state.”
“These officials laundered more than $2 million in taxpayer money through a complex bid-rigging scheme and thought they could get away with it. This shows how bad it can get when government operates in the shadows,” DiNapoli said. “Through our joint task force with the Attorney General’s office, our auditors and investigators were able to reveal these hidden abuses through not one, but two, local development corporations. It’s time to give the public full disclosure of the use of its money. I commend the Attorney General Schneiderman and his staff on the prosecution of this egregious wrongdoing.”
Oct 30th - 2:57 pm
After Senate Republicans filed a motion in state Supreme Court to quash a subpoena aimed at its campaign committee, the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s co-chairs said in a statement this afternoon it indeed has the authority to seek the information.
At the heart is a legal argument over whether the commission — appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — has the power to investigate the legislative branch of government.
In the statement, commission co-chairs Kathleen Rice, Bill Fitzpatrick and Milton Williams assert the deputizing of its members by Schneiderman grants them the authority to issue the subpoena.
“In addition to Executive Law 6 and the Executive order, the Moreland Commission has full legal authority, as Deputy Attorneys General, granted by the Attorney General, under Executive Law 63(8) to proceed with this investigation. We had hoped the Senate Republicans would willingly cooperate and they did not,” the co-chairs said in the statement. “We will prevail in court.”
Oct 23rd - 3:09 pm
JCOPE has proposed changes to its donor disclosure rules, and is requiring all those organizations seeking exemptions – including New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms – to refile their requests.
The changes first proposed back in September are now in place under an “emergency” adoption that expires Jan 4., 2014, the ethics watchdog wants to raise the standard under which exemptions will be granted, requiring organizations to demonstrate that their donors would face a “substantial liklihood” of harm or reprisal if their names are made public rather than just a “reasonable probability.”
Also, the current regulations keeps confidential all materials submitted by organizations in connection with exemption requests. Under JCOPE’s proposed changes, all information submitted would be publicly available.
Remember that so far, the only organization to receive an exemption is NARAL Pro-Choice NY, which didn’t sit too well with Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos. Other groups, including Family Planning Advocates of New York and NYCLU, have also filed requests for exemption, but so far have not received them.
Oct 22nd - 1:08 pm
As common as public corruption may be in Albany, leaking information is perhaps a more popular pasttime for everyone who traffics in information.
And Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, a co-chair for the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, is fed up with it.
In an interview on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom, Fitzpatrick called the leaks of subpoenas and rescinding of subpoenas “unfortunate.”
“That’s one of the difficulties that we have is the commissioners who have taken their oath seriously and are not going to talk about the outgoing status of the investigations on a daily basis are somewhat compromised by the individual who has chosen to leak some of the material that occurs at the meetings,” Fitzpatrick said in the interview with host Susan Arbetter.
For Fitzpatrick, the leaks aren’t accurate.
The commission has reportedly come under undue influence from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and declined to issue subpoenas to sensitive areas for the governor, including the state Democratic Committee and the Real Estate Board of New York, as well as an LLC the state party uses to purchase air time on TV for ad buys.
Quoting Albany District Attorney David Soares, Fitzpatrick said, “I don’t know who the rat is who is leaking stuff but I wish you would get their facts straight.”
Fitzpatrick insisted the staff from both Cuomo’s office and from the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are providing “input” but not “interference.”
“There’s a big difference between interference and input and certainly people from the governor’s staff and the attorney general’s staff — both of whom are on the commission — both those people have had input, but not interference,” he said. “I’m very happy with the course that we’re taking.”