Silver, Skelos harshly criticize Moreland Commission

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders have

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders have shut down the state's anti-corruption commission just days after the FBI's latest investigation of a legislator was revealed. Photo Credit: Jason Andrew

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ALBANY -- Two powerful state legislative leaders Friday accused a special commission formed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of trying to bully them into supporting the governor's agenda and engaging in tactics that amounted to "an abuse of process."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) criticized Cuomo's Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in emails to fellow lawmakers explaining why the Assembly and Senate are asking a judge to quash subpoenas to supply information about legislators' outside income.

The lawmakers said the panel, informally known as the Moreland Commission, is trying to coerce lawmakers into agreeing to campaign-finance laws sought by the governor, and that it has exceeded its authority. The panel, formed by Cuomo in July, has been investigating possible election-law violations and holding hearings about possible campaign-finance law changes.

"One thing is certain: it is an improper and illegal use of executive authority for appointees of that branch of government to 'investigate the Legislature' merely because the commissioners would like to compel passage of proposed legislation," Silver wrote to Assembly Democrats.

Silver added that it "an abuse of process" and said the fight was "a matter of constitutional dimension affecting all Legislators without regard to political affiliation."

In a letter to Senate Republicans, Skelos said of the commission: "These actions amount to an attempt to coerce or threaten the Legislature and upset the separation of powers that exists between the executive and legislative branches, and cannot be accepted."

Cuomo's office referred questions to the commission, which said that not all lawmakers are resisting the subpoenas.

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In a joint statement, commission co-chairs Milton Williams, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Onondaga County Attorney William Fitzpatrick said: "It should be noted that a significant number of employers of both Assembly members and Senators who were asked for information are cooperating. We had hoped everyone would work together, but they did not. We are confident we will prevail in court."

Cuomo launched the Moreland Commission after legislators failed to pass a package of campaign-finance proposals that, among other things, would have given the governor the power to appoint a special counsel to investigate election-law violations. Cuomo also favored some form of using public funds to finance campaigns.

Also Friday, law firms representing some legislators sought to block the subpoenas. One brief, filed by the former head of the state's ethics commission, said the commission's action "blatantly violates New York's separation of powers doctrine."

Karl Sleight said the subpoenas were an "impermissible fishing expedition" to find damaging information.

"From this commission's beginning in July 2013, Governor Cuomo's ultimate purpose for the commission was clear: it would serve as a tool to coerce the Legislature into passing the package of reform legislation that it chose not to consider or enact," wrote Sleight, whose firm, Harris Beach, represents Sen. Michael Nozzolio (R-Seneca Falls).

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