Senate Republicans strike a disclosure deal

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Michael Chertoff. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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ALBANY—The Senate Republicans' campaign arm has dropped its challenge to subpoenas from an anti-corruption commission, after investigators agreed to “narrow very significantly” the scope of their request.

In a brief filed Tuesday in Supreme Court in Manhattan, Senate Republican Campaign Committee lawyer Michael Chertoff said the SRCC “voluntarily discontinues” its challenge to a September subpoena from the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which was created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The SRCC had argued that the subpoena, which sought records about how unlimited soft money contributions were spent, was overly broad, and would offer the Democratic governor an unjustified look at the inner workings of Republicans' campaign strategy. The subpoena also sought invoices and financial records, as well as internal communications involving strategy.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat whose staff is advising the commission, said last week that a deal was in the works to avoid a court battle over separation of powers, and how far an executive branch commission could probe the Legislature. The Moreland Commission's co-chairs said in a statement they were “pleased” with the stand-down, which allows all sides to avoid setting a legal precedent on the issue.

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“Cooperation and reason prevailed and we look forward to continuing to work with the SRCC on this matter,” said co-chairs Milton Williams, William Fitzpatrick and Kathleen Rice.

Chertoff said in a statement that the commission dropped its demand for internal communications, which meant it surrendered on “most” of what it wanted.

“In light of the Commission’s offer to withdraw most of its demands, the SRCC has agreed to produce a limited set of documents reflecting financial records and certain external communications associated only with the Committee’s housekeeping account. Accordingly, the Committee will now withdraw its petition to quash the subpoena, while reserving its right to refile should circumstances warrant,” said Chertoff, who served as George W. Bush's secretary of Homeland Security.

Chertoff's filing references only “an agreement between the parties.” A commission source confirmed the basic outlines of the deal, and said investigators still had the information they need to proceed.

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee had already complied with a subpoena similar to the SRCC's.

The commission was examining the SRCC's transfers to other political committees, which on their face seem to contradict the legal restrictions place on the housekeeping account's spending, amid a broader review of the loosely regulated soft-money spending. The Moreland panel has also asked lawmakers, and some of the firms that employ them, for records detailing the nature of their work. Challenges to those subpoenas were filed Friday. During a hastily announced radio interview, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the SRCC's acquiescence showed their ongoing arguments are “baloney” and praised the cooperation as “a step in the right direction I hope others will follow.”

“I think it's a terrible mistake for the Legislature to be fighting with the Moreland Commission in complying with the subpoena,” he said. “People believe that if you refuse to comply with a subpoena, you have something to hide.”

Legislators and their employers offered a different set of arguments to those requests, though, which a Senate Republican spokesman indicated they were standing by.

But the political stand down is a sign of forward progress for talks about a new package of tweaks to ethics and campaign finance laws that have proceeded as a whispered backdrop to the Moreland Commission's investigatory work. The Commission is due to release its preliminary report by December 1, but as Cuomo said on the radio, "since it's a Sunday, I'm sure it will be Monday [or] Tuesday."