On Wednesday the New York Times published an account of how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his staff derailed the workings of an anti-corruption commission that Cuomo had established with great fanfare just months earlier. A New York state law from 1907 named for its sponsor, Sherman Moreland, allows the governor to appoint investigators with subpoena power to seek out corruption in state government.
Cuomo appointed the commission in July 2013 in response to newspaper headlines generated by NLPC and the subsequent arrests of three New York State Senators. We were encouraged by the creation of the commission although we were dubious that Cuomo was sincere about reform. As we pointed out in May 2013 when Cuomo used the term “scandalmania” and made several modest anti-corruption proposals:
While we welcome these proposals, they should not be used by Cuomo to construct a narrative that it is himself against the crooks, a portrayal that is being uncritically accepted by much of the New York media.
Cuomo is not apart from a rotten political system. He sits atop it. He has hobnobbed for years, and accepted supported from, many of the same characters who are now being led away in handcuffs.
Nor is Cuomo exactly Mr. Clean. The tentacles of scandal are now so all-encompassing that it may be only a matter of time before we see the public reports of their reach into his own administration.
Unfortunately, our doubts about Cuomo have been vindicated. The Times piece by Susanne Craig, William K. Rashbaum and Thomas Kaplan is rich in detail. It opens with the “most blatant” example of the influence of Cuomo’s staff on the commission:
It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.
The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.
Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.
“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:
“Pull it back.”
The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.
“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.
One shortcoming of the commission not identified by the Times is that it never contacted us. We possess information that would have helpful in developing cases against political figures who have already seen their names in headlines, and others who have not.
We don’t even have an office or staff in the state. But the graft is so rampant that we spotted it from hundreds of miles away by reviewing public documents and with, of course, help from some of the few honest people on the ground.
In photo: Indicted State Senator John Sampson and Governor Andrew Cuomo