Twisting and turning over ethics

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, March 14,

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, March 14, 2012. (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan )

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Die-hard Democratic fans of public campaign financing finally saw a "pilot" program enacted -- one that they hate.

Die-hard Republicans who dislike public financing now say this new law might be quite handy in recruiting a GOP nominee for state comptroller.

Count it among the ironies and role reversals of the season.

The measure creates public financing for the state comptroller race, a "pilot" program under the much-criticized state Board of Elections.

State GOP sources last week said a couple of potential comptroller candidates, whom they declined to name, came forward after the "pilot" was approved late last month. This week, state Republican chairman Ed Cox, in an upstate radio interview, said: "It broadens the field on the Republican side for potential comptroller candidates."

Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, seeking re-election, sits in the awkward position of having favored making his job the first to get public financing, but now is declining to participate.

"The way it's set up, it's really designed to fail," the comptroller told a teleconference of the Working Families Party last week.

Recent posturing and jostling over Albany misconduct brought other rare sights, such as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara blasting the closure of Cuomo's public-corruption commission.

When was the last time you heard a federal law-enforcement official complain that local authorities were closing an operation of their own? It defies the cliche of the turf-battle -- in which one team tries to big-foot the other out of the way on major probes.

Some who know Bharara believe he sincerely felt betrayed that the commission was "bargained away" in budget talks -- especially after he'd delivered high-profile testimony endorsing the panel's efforts.

Another twist involves enforcement efforts within the state Board of Elections. A new, powerful enforcement counsel is due to take office Sept. 1. But as Democratic board member Douglas Kellner explained it yesterday, the budget bill takes effect June 1 -- leaving a three-month gap in which the board cannot pursue those who fail to submit required filings.

Also, he said, the board is working quickly to develop rules for the campaign-financing pilot -- a surprise assignment since an independent commission had earlier been expected to be assigned the task. There are also serious concerns about staffing to meet new audit mandates, he said.

"I think the governor does seem intent on trying to clean up dysfunction. I'm optimistic [he and lawmakers] will address these things," Kellner said.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has picked Andrew Spano of Westchester for a Democratic election-board seat that had been vacant since December. He's the former Democratic county executive defeated in 2009 by Republican Rob Astorino -- the GOP's likely candidate against Cuomo this year.

Astorino promptly called on Spano to recuse himself from any matters related to his campaign. Spano replied to The Associated Press: "If I was ever in a situation in which I felt compromised, if it was an obvious situation that causes people to question my reputation, I would do the right thing."

The season of twists and turns over what is "the right thing" may not be over, with the rest of the legislative session expected to last through June.

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