Cuomo's anti-corruption panel ought to be running amok

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in Uniondale, NY. (July 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

The effort to target corruption in Albany may be running amok.

State legislative leaders are suing to shut down Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

Cuomo reportedly is negotiating with legislative leaders on a package of reforms that would make the commission go away.

And there have been news reports that the commission is spending more time digging into Republican-related matters than issues having to do with Democrats or Cuomo, a Democrat himself.

What's clear is that state legislative leaders and lawmakers are unnerved by the digging potential of a panel, which includes attorneys, academics and prosecutors from across the state, that can issue investigatory subpoenas.

Prosecutors, many of whom have been aggressive in questioning during commission hearings, plus subpoena power equals the opportunity to turn Albany upside down.

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That's exactly what the panel ought to be doing.

A panel run amok on investigating corruption would be remarkable because Cuomo, as he did with an earlier Moreland Commission investigating storm response and utilities, appears to hold tight to his creations. He created the Moreland Commission on corruption only after lawmakers balked at the aggressive reform package Cuomo had pushed earlier.

Public hearings into utilities, including the Long Island Power Authority, and how they handled power restoration following superstorm Sandy and other storms, were tightly controlled. At one Long Island hearing, the audience made no secret of its desire to hear witnesses rather than committee members themselves.

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Then the commission investigating storms released a preliminary report -- before completing its investigative phase -- that hewed almost identically to what Cuomo already had said he wanted done with LIPA.

Will that happen with the public corruption commission, too? That commission held hearings in New York City, which prompted a coalition of Long Islanders last week to convene a "People's Moreland Commission" hearing in Manhasset.

Attendance was sparse, compared with the real commission's hearings. But local speakers expertly identified what's at the heart of most public corruption: money.

A strong campaign finance law that mandates public financing of political campaigns would go a long way. So would a lot of other, even more aggressive reforms such as changing state law to allow judges to deny the pensions of public officials convicted of corruption-related acts.

In fact, the commission would do well to back Cuomo's initial, ambitious package of reforms, which included a ban on minor party cross-endorsements and full disclosure of whether lawmakers' outside sources of income include firms that do business with the state.

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The commission's preliminary report was slated to go to Cuomo's office for review by Sunday. It's expected to be released to the public on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to a Moreland spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, Cuomo is still negotiating with legislative leaders -- who have sued to kill the commission for being too aggressive with its subpoenas. On Wednesday, the Senate Republicans' campaign arm dropped its challenge to a subpoena issued by the Moreland Commission after it narrowed the scope of its inquiry.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and State Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeffrey Klein (D-Manhattan) filed suit, saying that commission co-chairs were harassing lawmakers and violating the separation of powers between the governor's office and the legislature.

But prosecutors can reach just about anywhere. And the last thing New York State -- which has seen scandal after embarrassing scandal -- needs is a panel tamed by Cuomo or lawmakers.

The status quo has got to go.

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So run, commission, run. Schedule more hearings, bring more residents in to tell their stories, send out more subpoenas, blind to party and branch of government.

Do what it takes -- because for too long, it's corruption that's been running amok.

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