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Moreland case harkens to earlier claim over Cuomo’s involvement with ethics board

Ravi Batra, seen in an undated photo, a

Ravi Batra, seen in an undated photo, a founding member of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, resigned two years ago and called for a federal probe of the panel created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy )

ALBANY -- The state ethics board member who quit in protest in 2012 over what he said was the panel’s lack of independence from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sees parallels to the latest claims that Cuomo interfered with a corruption commission.

“A governor can appoint judges, but can't control them; same is true for ethics commissioners,” said Ravi Batra, a founding member of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. "America's exceptional gift to humanity is our separated powers regime."

He resigned two years ago and called for a federal probe of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics created by Cuomo, headed by his appointee and staffed with his former appointees. Batra was a lone voice criticizing the governor who was even more popular and rarely criticized early in his term.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Cuomo and his top aides interfered with the Moreland Commission he created to combat corruption and which he ultimately shut down. The story said Cuomo and his aides dissuaded the Moreland Commission from investigating the governor’s campaign contributors and campaign spending, a claim Cuomo’s aides denied.

Cuomo had recently confirmed regular contact with the panel. The governor said it was proper for him to remain in contact with the panel that by law reported to him, but that all decisions on investigations were made by three co-chairmen he appointed.

“Trying to ‘control’ politics can run afoul of criminality as well as destroying our cherished separated powers; its un-American,” Batra said. “But when you ‘control’ others engaged in independence-based ethics review, investigations and oversight -- you have committed the ultimate sin -- fixing the system to get a fixed result ... wearing a Boy Scout uniform and mugging the little old lady crossing the sidewalk.“

Cuomo declined to comment.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating the cases once pursued by the Moreland Commission. Bharara was critical of Cuomo’s disbanding of the Moreland Commission in exchange for a political deal with the Legislature on some ethics measures.

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