Moreland Commission adviser criticizes Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shown speaking about START-UP

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shown speaking about START-UP NY in October 2013, announced on June 4, 2014, the first beneficiaries locating near colleges. (Credit: Ed Betz)

ALBANY -- The adviser to New York's anti-corruption commission said Monday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lost the best chance in decades to attack ethics problems in the state capital when he shut down the panel this month.

Last week, the commission's co-chairmen directed Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to rescind subpoenas to several legislators and to private law firms for which they work, according to a copy of the letter provided by the commission Monday. The commission was seeking to ferret out any conflicts between the public and private jobs after probes of the six-figure private-sector jobs were blocked by lawmakers for years.

"I was very disappointed," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters, who Cuomo had appointed as adviser to the corruption commission. "Did I have hope we would really change the culture of Albany? Of course."


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Bartoletti's remarks represented the first extensive criticism by a Cuomo appointee involved with the commission.

Also Monday, two other good-government advocates said a historic opportunity had been lost, while state Republican chairman Ed Cox called for a federal investigation of the governor's decision.

"Such arrogance of power has no place in New York politics," Cox said.

Cuomo had no comment Monday.

The Moreland Commission was disbanded as part of the March 31 budget deal, in exchange for the legislature accepting some of Cuomo's ethics proposals that lawmakers had rejected a year before. The measures include an investigator for the long-gridlocked Board of Elections, tougher bribery laws and a pilot program for using public funds to finance campaigns.

One of the commission's co-chairmen, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, has defended the measures as "a great accomplishment" for "broad reform." Fitzpatrick has confirmed Cuomo officials regularly conferred with the commission's co-chairmen.

In the commission's final months, legislative leaders fought the panel's subpoenas as it investigated potential conflicts between lawmakers' part-time legislative jobs and their work in private law firms. That strained relations with Cuomo as the leaders negotiated an election-year budget.

"The commission got more and more independent as it went along," said Bartoletti, who as adviser attended all meetings and recommended and debated legislative reforms.

The members "truly felt we were doing a public service, that we were doing a job that will help change the culture of Albany. And none of that happened."

"They had the legislature on the ropes and the governor threw in the towel," said Dick Dadey of the nonprofit good-government group Citizens Union.

"This was a historical opportunity for the governor and he blinked," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Government is supposed to be working in the public interest, not in the political interest of politicians."

The commission's investigations, but not the subpoenas, were turned over to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He had criticized Cuomo's decision to disband the commission he had announced with "great fanfare."

Cuomo has defended his decision. "The Moreland Commission was my commission," he told Crain's New York Business last week. "I can appoint it. I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? . . . I can't 'interfere' with it because it is mine."

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