Gov. Andrew Cuomo established a powerful investigative body Tuesday to examine public corruption, including potential wrongdoing by legislators in campaign fundraising, in an attempt to address what’s seen as a widespread problem in New York government.
Cuomo, announcing the panel at the Capitol, was joined by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said he’ll deputize the commission members. That gives them broad authority to investigate any branch of state government and refer misconduct cases for prosecution. They will also recommend changes in the law and ethics rules, he said.
Cuomo announced his intention two weeks ago after abandoning efforts to get reforms through the legislature. Those efforts followed federal bribery and embezzlement charges filed against several state lawmakers this year. Similar commissions ordered by governors over decades have resulted in lengthy corruption probes and arrests.
“They’ll follow the money and go where the commission determines to go,” Cuomo said. It’s no legislative witch hunt, he said, noting the federal cases show there are real problems, but adding that he expects the investigation to vindicate 99 percent of elected officials who are good people.
The committee was established by executive order under both New York’s anti-corruption Moreland Act and the state’s Executive Law. It has subpoena power and will investigate the influence of campaign contributions on state government and compliance with election and lobbying laws. Its preliminary report is due by Dec. 1, with a final report expected by the end of next year.
“The corruption that now is perceived by the public to be rampant in state government undermines the ability of every part of the state government to function. It has to be addressed comprehensively,” Schneiderman said.
The commission is chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, and most of its 22 members are attorneys and prosecutors. State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico, NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters are special advisers.
Fitzpatrick questioned news reports that some legislators expressed surprise Cuomo was establishing a commission.
“What is the magic number that it takes for people to say, ‘Wow, there’s a problem here’? The number’s about 35 right now — people indicted, under investigation, sentenced to prison.”