Cuomo announces his Moreland Commission, explains the difference between Salem and Albany

Andrew Cuomo. (via governor.ny.gov)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo today established a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in the state legislature, after a string of scandals involving its members in the last several months.

Cuomo said he's doing it because it's necessary, and rejected the suggestion from some legislators that he's conducting a witch-hunt.

"The concept of 'witch-hunt,' when you use that word, you're suggesting that you're looking for something that isn't there," said the governor, when asked about it at a press conference.

"There really were no witches, so you couldn't really search for the witch because the witch didn't exist, that's what they're trying to say here," he went on. "I'm trying to say, no, no, no, no, this is different. This is not about looking for something that's not there."

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Authorities have indicted several state legislators in recent months for corruption, but the idea that Albany has a corruption problem is nothing new. In fact, Cuomo was talking about the desirability of creating a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption back when he was the attorney general.

He says he's finally following now because "it's worse."

The 25-member Commission to Investigate Public Corruption includes several current and former district attorneys and lawyers who have worked in various capacities for state attorneys general, and a number of attorneys with pre-existing relationships to Cuomo.

Nassau County district attorney Kathleen Rice, who Cuomo at one point unofficially supported in her run for state attorney general, is one of the commission's co-chairs. Eric Corngold, Cuomo's former executive deputy attorney general for economic justice, will also serve on the commission. Joe D'Amico, Cuomo's state police superintendent, will serve as a special adviser.

Significantly, the executive order from Cuomo that creates the commission gives it additional teeth by granting broad authority to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate corruption, and designating the commissioners as deputy attorneys general. 

From the official release:

The Commission to Investigate Public Corruption will be tasked with thoroughly reviewing the adequacy of existing state laws, regulations and procedures involving unethical and unlawful misconduct by public officials, and the electoral process and campaign finance laws. The Commission will also examine whether existing laws have been fairly and vigorously enforced, and what changes must be made to such enforcement. During the Commission’s investigation, it will also review recent instances of reported misconduct by officials to determine causes and adequacy of laws and enforcement tools to more effectively prevent and punish this kind of misconduct in the future. The Commission is directed to make recommendations to toughen and improve existing laws and procedures.

Areas where the Commission will focus its investigation include but are not limited to:

· Criminal statutes for corruption and misconduct by public officials, such as bribery laws

· Campaign financing including but not limited to contribution limits and other restrictions; disclosure of third-party contributions and expenditures; and the effectiveness of existing campaign finance laws.

· Compliance of outside organizations and persons with existing lobbying laws, including but not limited to organizations engaged in lobbying and other efforts to influence public policies and elections, and the effectiveness of such laws.

· Adequacy and enforcement of the State’s election laws and electoral process including: the structure and composition of the State and County Boards of Elections, the Board of Elections’ enforcement, and the effectiveness of and compliance with existing election laws.

During its investigation, the Commission is mandated to promptly communicate any evidence of violations of existing law to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Attorney General. In such cases, the State Police will make jurisdictional referrals to the Attorney General where appropriate.

The commission will release a preliminary report by the end of the year and a final report by the end of next year.

"We'll do what Deep Throat told Bob Woodward to do: follow the money," said Onondaga County D.A. William Fitzpatrick, one of the commissioner's co-chairs, today.