On Monday, July 28th, Governor Andrew Cuomo defended how he dealt with the anti-corruption commission, dismissing reports that his administration interfered with its work.
Last year, democrat Cuomo created the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, and then later this spring dismantled it. Cuomo holds that the commission made its decisions independently, and his office merely made suggestions that were rejected later on by the commission.
In Buffalo, following an economic development announcement, Cuomo told reporters, “The commission took advice and opinion from many, many people. That’s not a sign of interference that is demonstrable proof of independence.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that Larry Schwartz, a top aide for Cuomo, pressed the commission to exclude subpoenas to entities linked to the governor.
On Monday, commission members stated that they would not have allowed the governor’s office to interfere. Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, one of the commissioners, said that panel members discussed possible resignations, after they caught wind that Cuomo’s office tried to stop subpoenas by the commission. Sedita said that Cuomo’s office later backed off.
In a statement Sedita said, “We would not stand for any interference, and discussed a number of options, including resignation. The governor’s office ... agreed not to interfere with our work.”
On Monday Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, one of the commission’s three chairs said if Cuomo’s administration attempted to influence its work he would have resigned Fitzpatrick said, “The bottom line is that nobody ‘interfered’ with me or my co-chairs.”
Initially Schwartz had initially had pushed for the commission not to issue subpoenas to a media-buying firm used by Cuomo as well as to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members financially supported the governor’s campaign, according to the Times reports. Also reported was that the commission
The newspaper also reported that the commission was advised to leave alone the Committee to Save New York, which is a lobbying group composed of CEOs and business groups that gathered an approximate $17 million in donations from anonymous sources that funded TV ads that supported the governor early in his term.
This is a sensitive time for these allegations to come for Cuomo, who aspires to win a second term by wide margins this November and may have presidential ambitions. Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout is his primary opponent along with Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino have criticized Cuomo’s handling of the commission.
Last year the commission was appointed by Cuomo to investigate corruption, specifically in pay-to-play campaign finance schemes. The panel was mainly comprised of county district attorneys and was given subpoena power.
Cuomo said the commission accomplished its purpose because it prompted new laws to toughen bribery prosecutions and led to the creation of a new campaign finance oversight office. He said prosecutors can still pursue cases prompted by the commission’s work.
In Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is currently examining the commission’s files. He has called the disbanding of the commission premature but said that federal prosecutors will aggressively complete its “important and unfinished” work.