Dec 4th - 8:48 am
(A shortened version of this morning’s Memo – with video).
We already knew there were divisions among the 25 Moreland Commission members, thanks to the seven-member dissent on public campaign financing included in the preliminary report released Monday.
But that disagreement morphed into open warfare yesterday as Commission Co-Chair Kathleen Rice lashed out at one of the dissenters, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, all but accusing her of lying when it comes to the commission’s ability – and willingness – to include anyone other than state legislators in its public corruption probe.
Rice’s comments came during a Capital Tonight interview last night, and were in response to Mahoney’s appearance on the show Monday evening, in which the Republican Onondaga County executive said it would be a “mockery” for the commission to “pretend” it would investigate the governor.
To do so, Mahoney said, would be a conflict of interest, since the commission was appointed by Cuomo and then deputized by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (She did not address the fact that a Moreland Commission, by definition, is supposed to restrict its efforts to executive agencies).
Mahoney also said there had been “no conversations” within the commission to look at anything other than legislative corruption.
With very little prompting on my part last night, Rice, who is also a Democrat and the district attorney of Nassau County, insisted that Mahoney “doesn’t speak for the commission,” adding: “I think some of the things she said were just out-and-out not true.”
“In fact, the governor and the attorney general have made statements in direct contradiction to what commissioner Mahoney said about the ability to look into the governor,” Rice continued.
“The governor made it very clear and the commission has made it very clear that this commission’s mission is to follow the money where ever it goes without fear or favor.”
Rice also played down the dissent over public campaign financing, saying: “We had more than a majority of people saying (that) was the way to go.”
I asked her about reports that the Cuomo administration had actually encouraged this dissent, in hopes of providing cover for the governor if he fails to get a deal with the Senate Republicans, who have dug in their heels against the idea of using taxpayer dollars to fuel the ambitions of aspiring elected officials.
(Cuomo actually fueled that belied himself yesterday by initially saying leaders should focus on getting a deal on the reform measures where agreement already exists, and then walking that back by issuing – through a spokeswoman – a statement reiterating his strong support for creation of a publicly financed system).
Rice stuck to the administration’s talking points, saying it’s “very clear” where the governor stands on public financing. “We felt it was important for the dissent to be able to be heard,” she said, “and they were.”
You can watch my entire interview with Rice here.
Dec 3rd - 3:10 pm
Since last night’s release of the Moreland Commission report, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has played his cards relatively close to the vest when it comes to creation of a public campaign finance system.
Keep in mind that Cuomo has been expressing support for using taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns for years now – at least since he was running for governor in 2010 – but has not yet expended significant political capital to actually achieve that goal the way he did with similarly controversial issues like same-sex marriage (a supposed non-starter with the Senate Republicans) and Tier 6 (particularly unpopular with Democrats in both houses).
Given Cuomo’s supposed enthusiasm for a publicly funded system, you might think he would have embraced the commission’s report. But instead, he issued the following relatively innocuous statement following the report’s release last night:
“I want to thank the Commission members and staff for their dedication and public service, and look forward to reviewing the Commission’s findings in detail and continuing to work with the Legislature to enact systemic reform.”
And then this morning, (as Nick reports below), Cuomo suggested that the dissent on public campaign financing might be too much to overcome, vis-a-vis the Senate Republicans, and should not hold up a deal on areas of reform on which both houses of the Legislature and the governor can agree.
This sounds a lot like Cuomo’s explanation during the last legislative session on why he wasn’t able to land a deal on all 10 points of his Women’s Equality Agenda – including the abortion rights plank, which the Senate Republicans staunchly refused to allow onto the floor for a vote.
So far, campaign finance reform advocates are trying to remain calm and optimistic. It’s very early in the game, after all, and the 2014 session hasn’t even officially started yet.
But several advocates I spoke with today said the true test of whether Cuomo is serious about creating a public campaign finance system is if he puts funding for said system in his 2014-15 executive budget proposal (assuming, that is, no deal is reached prior to the start of the 2014 session, which, given the Senate GOP’s opposition to the idea, seems highly unlikely at this point).
Two sources close to the campaign finance debate said Cuomo has suggested to advocates that it would somehow be illegal for him to include revenue for a taxpayer-funded system in the budget. But state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office disagrees.
“Article VII of the New York State Constitution grants the Governor broad authority to include substantive legislation in his proposed executive budget,” Schneiderman spokesman Matt Mittenthal said. “The governor’s authority was challenged by the Legislature in Pataki v. Assembly, and the challenge was rejected by the Court of Appeals.”
Unshackle Upstate recently argued in an anti-public campaign finance system white paper that using public funds for a political purpose would be unconstitutional. But advocates noted that the New York City system has existed for decades, and hasn’t never been challenged on constitutional grounds.
UPDATE: Mittenthal sent the following statement on the constitutionality question:
“No law prevents the legislature from giving public money to private individuals when doing so promotes a clear public purpose. There is no doubt that a small donor matching program – as part of a public financing law – would do just that.”
A number of funding mechanisms for a publicly financed system have been floated, including everything from using cash captured by closing corporate loopholes (a lefty favorite) to casino licensing fees (an idea put forth by Democratic activist/gadfly Bill Samuels and promptly shot down by Cuomo).
I emailed Cuomo’s press office to ask whether the governor might put money for a public campaign finance system in the budget, but have yet to receive a response.
Dec 3rd - 1:41 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated Tuesday morning that the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s preliminary report could be the basis for some sort of an ethics overhaul package, but hedged on whether that could include public financing of political campaigns.
Instead, Cuomo highlighted where the 25-member panel agrees: tightening disclosure laws, strengthening bribery penalties and better enforcement at the state Board of Elections.
“There is dissent and there is a political division on the question of public financing,” Cuomo said. “There are a lot of other elements of the report where there was no dissent and there was no division. These are inarguable in the report. I believe there is consensus in the report and those are issues we should move forward on.”
Cuomo indicated the dissent in the commission’s preliminary report released Monday evening highlighted the political division of the issue.
Seven commission members, including his own appointees Joanie Mahoney and Pat Barrett signed on to opposing the recommendation of public financing. (NOTE: A reader points out ALL the seven commissioners who dissented were, in fact, Cuomo appointees. And that includes Eric Corngold, who served as an executive deputy attorney general when Cuomo was AG).
“We know that public financing is a political issue,” Cuomo said at an unrelated event at Madison Square Garden. “The Assembly supports; the Senate Republicans don’t support it.”
Cuomo also insisted the ethics reform in Albany is a “work in progress.”
The Legislature in 2011 adopted an ethics overhaul measure that required greater disclosure of sources of outside income for state elected officials, as well as the creation of the latest lobbying regulator, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“I don’t know if you ever clean up government 100 percent,” Cuomo said. “It’s a work in progress and you continue to refine.”
Several legislative sources on Tuesday expressed doubt that, at this point, a special session would be possible to approve a series of ethics measure, whether public financing is a part of the package or not.
At the same time, lawmakers are still fighting subpoenas from the commission seeking more information on their private business interests (the Senate Republican Campaign Committee settled its subpoena concerns with the commission last week).
But the bottom line for Cuomo was the 101-page report showed there was a need to clean up the Capitol.
“I think what the commission did was make abundantly clear is we need to clean up Albany,” he said.
Dec 3rd - 7:02 am
ICYMI: One of the 25 Moreland Commission members, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, said during a CapTon interview last night that the corruption-busting body is unlikely to train its sites on the executive branch, despite multiple calls (largely from legislators) to do so.
“I think we’re making a mockery of this whole process if we try to pretend that a group of us that’s been appointed by the attorney general and the governor is investigating the attorney general or the governor,” Mahoney told me.
“So, I never subscribed to that notion to start with, and there has been no conversations inside the Moreland Commission to do anything other than address public corruption and these instances that are outlined in this report, which are all legislative.”
Mahoney, a Republican who crossed party lines in 2010 to endorse Cuomo’s first gubernatorial run, went so far as to say it would be a conflict of interest for the commission to investigate the executive branch.
She said it would only be appropriate for an “independent” commission – in other words, one whose members are not appointed by the governor – to undertake that sort of probe.
Cuomo, as you’ll recall, stressed the Moreland Commission’s independence when he first announced its creation over the summer, saying its members would be free to consider any aspect of the state’s loophole-riddled campaign system they saw fit – including his own massive fund-raising operation.
“It’s an independent commission that is free to investigate whatever they feel needs to be investigated on the merits,” the governor said at the time.
But then came reports of the Cuomo administration’s micromanagement of the commission, including directing some subpoenas and blocking others from being issued.
Amid those reports, AG Eric Schneiderman, whose office was used by Cuomo to beef up the commission’s investigatory powers, reiterated that the body could not succeed unless it was truly independent, saying:
“It has to be to follow the money wherever it goes. I am opposed to anything that stands in the way of those goals.”
Mahoney also spoke about the tremendous pressure – from both inside and outside the commission – to include public campaign financing among the reform recommendations in the report released yesterday, though she shied away from saying the administration itself pushed for that outcome.
Mahoney was one of seven commissioners to sign onto a dissenting opinion about public financing, and told me last night she remains unconvinced that using taxpayer dollars – especially at a time when so many upstate cities are facing financial peril – to fund political campaigns is an idea that will sell to New York voters.
You can see my entire interview with Mahoney (which was conducted on the phone, as she was traveling back to Central New York from White Plains) here.
Jun 21st - 2:39 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put creation of a Moreland Act Commission on the fast track since the Legislature declined to pass his ethics and campaign finance reform package. According to a source familiar with these talks, his preparations have included discussions about bringing the state attorney general into the mix to bolster the commission’s clout and avoid any potential balance of power issues.
An administration official did not rule out the possibility of Cuomo seeking AG Eric Schneiderman’s assistance with the commission, but also said the governor is talking with many members of the law enforcement community – including district attorneys and US attorneys – and it’s “premature to speculate” what approach he will ultimately take.
Cuomo himself said this morning on The Capitol Pressroom that there will be an executive order establishing a Moreland Act Commission “very, very soon; we’re talking a matter of days.”
Several observers, including former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, have questioned the legality of a Moreland Act Commission investigating the Legislature as Cuomo seems intent on doing.
In a HuffPo essay published yesterday, Brodsky noted that the 1907 act empowers the governor to convene a commission to “examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state.” Under the auspices of the state Constitution, boards, bureaus and commissions do not extend to include the Legislature itself.
Brodsky noted that the Feerick Commission – formally known as the Commission On Government Integrity – convened by former Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1987 to investigate the state’s campaign finance system employed a double-barrel approach that involved deputizing the chairman, Fordham Law School Dean John Feerick, as a deputy attorney general.
This gave the Feerick Commission more powers than it would have had on its own. If done again through a referral by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Schneiderman, could enable this new commission to specifically target the Legislature – and perhaps even individual lawmakers.
Brodsky also noted that Cuomo would lose full control over the commission if he went with the hybrid approach, and that’s something this governor isn’t likely going to be too keen on.
While he was AG, Cuomo advocated giving more power to his office to beef up its ability to investigate public corruption. But since he became governor and inherited the power to actually make that happen for his successor, he has declined to do so.
Apr 12th - 2:45 pm
Not surprisingly, state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long is not at all pleased with the talk in Albany these days of going away with so-called fusion voting by repealing or amending the Wilson-Pakula statute that requires candidates who aren’t enrolled in a particular party to get permission from that party’s leaders to run on their ballot line.
New York is one of just eight states that allow cross endorsements, which are really the lifeblood of the
three four third parties with ballot access – the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party and the Independence Party. Note: I forgot the Green Party, which, thanks to its 2010 gubernatorial candidate, Howie Hawkins, now has automatic ballot access through the 2014 election.
Often, a third party ballot line provides the margin of victory for candidates in close elections. (The Conservatives like to note that no statewide Republican candidate has won an election without their support since 1974). But cross endorsements are also how minor parties maintain their ballot status, since their ability to maintain their lines is contingent on their gubernatorial candidate receiving at least 50,000 votes every four years.
Needless it say, it’s alot easier for a well-known major party candidate like Andrew Cuomo to his that threshold than some no-name challenger – unless, of course, that challenger is really controversial (like Carl Paladino) or really rich (like Tom Golisano, whose self-funded and unsuccessful quest to win the governor’s office created the Independence Party).
Cuomo has not yet formally proposed any electoral reforms in the wake of last week’s back-to-back corruption scandals, but he has talked about the possibility of rescinding the Wilson-Pakula law following Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith’s arrest for allegeding trying to bribe his way onto the GOP line in the New York City mayor’s race.
The idea now has some legs, thanks to IDC leader Jeff Klein’s wide-ranging campaign finance/electoral reform proposal that includes repeal of Wilson-Pakula.
In a CapTon interview that will air tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., Long called ending Wilson-Pakula a “wrong headed” idea that would provide “an easy way out” for the governor. And he warned that minor parties like his won’t be the only casualties of this change.
“In his mind, it makes it look like he’s really doing some big reform,” the chairman said. “If they do away with Wilson-Pakula, and do away fusion voting eventually, we would probably go out of business but we’re not going to go out of business right away.”
“So, an awful lot of people are going to get hurt in the process because we’re going to run canddiates up and down the state of New York on the Conservative Party line. We’ll run ‘em for governor, United States Senate, Assembly, Senate. If that’s what he wants to do, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
“…Why do this feel good reform? Why not do something that has teeth in it, like making it very clear to those who have the public trust, those who get elected to office…that if they break the law and teh game the system and they’re found guilty and they’re convicted of a felony, guess what? You just lost your pension.”
(For the record, Long doesn’t like public campaign financing, either).
It seems highly unlikely that the Wilson-Pakula piece will end up in the final reform deal – assuming there is one – agreed to by y the legislative leaders and Cuomo, although much depends on how hard the governor pushes for this particular change.
I can’t imagine that either Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, whose members benefit greatly from the Conservative Party’s line; or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has the same situation with the labor-backed Working Families Party; is going to go along with this at the end of the day.
Apr 11th - 1:14 pm
ICYMI: This was today’s morning memo…
Back when Andrew Cuomo was state attorney general, he issued a scathing report on the so-called Troopergate scandal, condemning then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s botched use of the State Police to smear his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
The scandal dragged on for months (actually, it outlived the tenures of both Spitzer and Bruno), with the Senate Republicans milking every last drop of publicity possible from the mess.
Part of the GOP’s strategy to extend Troopergate was a series of hearings convened by now former Sen. George Winner. At one of these little get-togethers, a trio of top Cuomo aides appeared to testify, making a plea for more power in the AG’s office to prosecute public corruption cases.
“If we had subpoena power, this investigation would be over,” Cuomo’s former chief of staff, Steve Cohen, told the senators, noting the AG’s office does have that ability in some cases – environmental cases, Medicaid fraud cases, securities cases (via the Martin Act, which was used to the fullest extent by Cuomo’s predecessor, Spitzer) – but not when it comes to public integrity.
“This is one of those problems that the more you look at it the more you realize that this is a glaring hole in our arsenal, and the more you realize that, unlike in most cases, the fix is not that complicated,” Cohen continued.
“…What you really want is to have one regulatory body, or more, but at least one, that has the ability to pursue cases wherever they think it’s necessary. It would seem to me that the appropriate place to vest that power…is in the statewide attorney general’s office.”
That was then.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that the biggest corruption-busting case brought by Cuomo while he was AG felled former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi. When it comes to putting away crooked state lawmakers, the prize goes to US Attorney Preet Bharara.
Fast forward to 2011, when Cuomo has become governor and former Sen. Eric Schneiderman – a man widely known not to be Cuomo’s first choice as a successor – had won a crowded and hard-fought primary and general election to make it to the AG’s office.
Schneiderman told the TU he had unsuccessfully raised the issue of a so-called “blanket referral” from the governor’s office via an executive order that would enable him to investigate public corruption cases.
Apr 9th - 2:14 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo just unveiled Step One in what will be a multi-pronged reform proposal in the wake of last week’s back-to-back corruption cases: Empowering local district attorneys to better ferret out and prosecute wrongdoing by dirty elected officials at all levels of government in New York.
Cuomo said he had decided to start here because the DAs are essentially the first line of defense in busting bad pols. Increasing penalties and creating new crimes – like making it a misdemeanor to fail to report bribery – through the Public Trust Act, as the governor has dubbed it, is also arguably the low-hanging fruit when it comes to getting legislative support.
The governor has said he wants to strike while the iron is hot, and believes state lawmakers are ”receptive” to approving reforms in light of recent events. But more political efforts, like doing away with fusion voting and creating a publicly funded campaign finance system, could still be a tough sell.
Notably left off Cuomo’s law enforcement proposal today was any mention of the state attorney general, who has repeatedly asked for more power when it comes to investigating public integrity cases.
Most notably, the AG lacks subpoena power in corruption cases, which hamstrings him considerably – so much so that AG Eric Schneiderman has resorted to teaming up with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who does have suboena power, to prosecute the misuse of public funds.
Asked (by NY1′s intrepid Zack Fink) why the AG isn’t part of his proposal, Cuomo said his quest is to “maximize all political offices” when it comes to corruption busting, adding that the attorney general has “an important role” to play.
That’s a very different tune than the one Cuomo himself was singing back when he was AG.
In the wake of the so-called Troopergate scandal, in which Cuomo issued a scathing report on then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s botched attempt to use to the State Police to smear his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Cuomo’s top aide, Steve Cohen, said the following at a Senate GOP hearing:
“This is one of those problems that the more you look at it the more you realize that this is a glaring hole in our arsenal, and the more you realize that, unlike in most cases, the fix is not that complicated…What you really want is to have one regulatory body, or more, but at least one, that has the ability to pursue cases wherever they think it’s necessary. It would seem to me that the appropriate place to vest that power…is in the statewide attorney general’s office.”
At the time, the Senate Republicans were calling on Spitzer to make Cuomo a special prosecutor with the subpoena power so he could take a deeper dive into investigating Troopergate.
They even drafted legislation that would require the state inspector general to refer cases to the AG, and confer subpoena power to that office in the process, any time a conflict of interest arises in a case – as it did in Troopergate, pitting the executive and legislative branches against one another.
Needless to say, Spitzer did not heed that call, and the bill in question never went anywhere.
Apr 4th - 12:55 pm
ICYMI: This was today’s morning memo. (Sign up on our State of Politics home page if you haven’t already).
The fallout from the ballot rigging/real estate/bribery scandal will likely continue for some time, with a plethora of proposals floated by elected officials and good government advocates anxious to demonstrate to an exasperated public that they are doing everything they can to prevent this sort of this from happening again…and again…and again.
Already, the calls are coming for campaign finance reform – specifically, a publicly funded system that ostensibly would free candidates and incumbents from going, hat in hand, to deep pocketed donors, labor unions and corporate interests that, in turn, wield undue influence in the halls of power.
There are some naysayers, however, including Bob McManus, who writes in this morning’s NY Post that what likely fueled Sen. Malcolm Smith’s desire to bribe his way into a race he had close to zero chances of winning was access to oodles of taxpayer-based matching funds through NYC’s campaign finance system.
It’s true that, as another key figure in this scandal, NYC Councilman Dan Halloran put it, this mess was all about the “f*#@ing money,” and reducing the power of cash in the system very well could reduce the opportunities for those bent on corruption to put their dirty plans into action.
But there’s another reform highlighted in this morning’s New York Times that would likely be far more effective at preventing a ballot-for-sale scandal like this one – and it’s a proposal that will likely be far less popular with elected officials than the idea of free campaign cash at the taxpayers’ expense.
The Gray Lady’s editorial page says remedy No. 1 to this particular scandal is the resignations of the “compromised” pols involved, starting with the “sleaze-spattered Mr. Smith.”
“The harder job will be getting rid of the pay-to-play culture,” the editorial continues. “This means repealing the law that gives party leaders the right to allow outsiders to run in primaries.”
“For years, the Republican line in New York City has been sold to high bidders who – like Mayor Michael Bloomberg – make legal contributions to the party treasury. (Mr. Smith is accused of illegally funneling cash to personal accounts.) This invites corruption and misleads voters who presume a Republican is actually a Republican.”
Ah yes, Mayor Bloomberg.
Let us not forget that the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent billionaire has pretty much bought his way onto the GOP and Independence Party lines for three terms running now.
But in his case, it’s all completely legal, thanks to the fact that 1) party housekeeping accounts have no contribution limits, and 2) his contributions were reported, as required by the state’s highly permissive election laws.
New York is one of just eight states in the nation that allow so-called “fusion voting,” neatly defined by Wikipedia as “an arrangement where two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, pooling the votes for that candidate.”
Apr 2nd - 1:36 pm
In announcing the three-pronged bribery scheme that appears to have felled state Sen. Malcolm Smith, two local Rockland County officials and several NYC GOP leaders, US Attorney Preet Bharara today condemned – yet again – the culture of corruption in New York politics.
Bharara called for something other than the “blunt” prosecutorial tools of his office to be brought to bear in an attempt to finally clean up the system.
The US attorney didn’t make any specific recommendations about how to purge the state of dirty pols, but he did make clear that the growing list of cases against elected officials at the state and local levels brought by his office indicate that the problem is far from solved – despite claims to the contrary by any number of self-appointed “reformers.”
“(W)hat can we expect when there continues to be – even after a parade of politicians have been hauled off to prison – a lack of transparency, a lack of self-disclosure, a lack of self policing, a lack of will, and a failure of leadership?” Bharara said. “What can we expect when transgressions seem to be tolerated and nothing seems to ever change? New Yorkers should demand more.”
“…I think that any time you have a situation where something happens again and again and again, and it happens on the part of people who should know better, and it happens on the part of people who should be able to engage in a decent and reasonable calculus about whether or not it’s worth going to jail and being separated from your liberty for a few thousand dollars, that something is broken in the system,” he continued a bit later.
“…I think there are a lot of folks in and around the state who are people of good will and decency who are in a position to do something about the structure that exists in Albany and in other places.”
Smith has been in investigators’ crosshairs for some time, and speculation has run rampant for years now that he would likely end up indicted – although it must be said that the circumstances under which he was finally charged comes as something of a surprise (at least to me).
But Bharara’s blistering attack on politics, writ large, must sting a little for any number of people – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, in his previous job as state attorney general, pledged to clean up Street State, much the way his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, had taken on Wall Street.
Cuomo did expose a massive pay-to-play state pension fund scandal that felled a number of high-profile individuals, including former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and his long-time political advisor, Hank Morris. But he didn’t focus terribly much on the Legislature during his four years as the state’s top attorney.
Back in 2010, Cuomo chose to launch his gubernatorial campaign in front of the former Manhattan courthouse named for Boss Tweed, the corrupt political boss of Tammany Hall. At the time, he told supporters: “Unfortunately, Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush. Our message today is simple. Enough is enough.”
Since then, however, the parade of pols slapped with corruption charges has only continued, including yet another member of the Senate Democratic conference, Carl Kruger, (Cuomo called his case “unfortunate”); former Westchester Sen. Nick Spano (who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges); and, of course, Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., whose case (his second time fighting charges) is ongoing.
(For the record, Bharara declined to say that the epicenter of corruption in Albany lies in the Senate, despite the fact that it has been home to the majority of fallen legislators, saying: “(F)rom what I understand in the papers, not every state legislator has this degree of criminality that’s been exposed.”
Part of Cuomo’s gubernatorial platform was an ethics reform pledge. The governor did accomplish that during his first year in office, scrapping the existing watchdog commissions in Albany and replacing them with JCOPE, which has had a troubled tenure almost since its inception.
UPDATE: Here’s a copy of Bharara’s formal remarks from this morning’s press conference, as prepared for delivery: