State ethics probe may be winding down
It's a case of mixed signals when it comes to the state Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. Or maybe not.
While the panel said last week it's pressing ahead with broad investigations of campaign contributions of every political party in New York, there are signs it could be winding down. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers recently accelerated talks about a package of ethics laws that all could agree on and possibly put the commission to bed.
Both the actions by the panel and lawmakers follow criticism from government watchdogs and some politicians about the commission's perceived lack of independence from the Democratic governor.
Cuomo launched the commission in July after a spate of indictments and convictions of New York City-based legislators.
Last week, the commission decided to issue subpoenas to the state Democratic Party; state committees for the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties; the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee; and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.
The subpoenas target "housekeeping accounts," which are supposed to be used for administrative purposes but have historically funded a wide range of political activities. It's the account that big donors use to effectively avoid contribution limits. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, gave $1 million to the Senate GOP housekeeping account just before the 2012 elections.
Previously, the commission had subpoenaed just the Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, excluding the state Democratic Party, which has bankrolled Cuomo ads. The commission also said it had briefed the staffs of Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman weekly. Now, it's trying to demonstrate independence.
"Everything is on the table," commission co-chairs Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney; Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick; and attorney Milton Williams Jr. said in a joint statement.
At about that time, talks about a compromise package of legislation picked up steam, with Cuomo trying to revive proposals to beef up bribery laws, among other things, sources said.
The corruption panel is set to issue a report in December. It will be interesting to see if that coincides with the talks yielding an agreement.
Lawmakers aren't due back in Albany until January for the start of the new legislative session -- and the kickoff of a statewide election year.