ALBANY -- 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.
In exchange, however, Cuomo secured approval to create an independent enforcer with a staff on the state Board of Elections to investigate campaigns and Albany's alleged pay-to-play culture. The enforcer also will have a vote to break the frequent gridlock on the board when it considers enforcement action. The board has been evenly divided by Democratic and Republican appointees.
The new measure is part of the state budget adopted Monday. The ethics package includes revised bribery laws tailored to government corruption; more disclosure of campaign finances; stiffer sentences for corruption; and a lifetime ban from public office and government contracts for those convicted of corruption.
The measures were recommended by Cuomo's corruption commission, which was expected to conclude its work later this year.
"I said all along, if we passed a public trust act, the Moreland Commission would be shut down," Cuomo said Wednesday.
Cuomo appointed the commission a year ago after the legislature rejected his Public Trust Act, much of which lawmakers approved this time along with the budget.
"The Moreland Commission functioned for a year," Cuomo said. "I think they did good work. I think they did a good report and I think they informed the dialogue."
The concern is whether there will be independent and aggressive oversight and enforcement of the new provisions, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"We never thought the biggest problem in Albany was that actions weren't illegal," he said. "The problem is no one thinks they will get caught. There is nothing in this package that makes it more likely that people will get caught."
The State Legislature has been the focus of federal investigations in recent years, which touched more than 30 lawmakers over the last eight years. A week ago, Assemb. William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) was interviewed for an hour in his Albany office before FBI agents removed several boxes of documents apparently as part of a broader probe.
Meanwhile, the Moreland Commission will be out of business, and have to refer its pending investigations to other prosecutors, in an election year.
Some good-government groups criticized the new package and the loss of the commission because it was apparently part of a trade for testing public campaign financing. They view the public financing pilot program, which is restricted to the comptroller's race this year, as so poor that they recommend that no candidate participate.
The Moreland Commission was fiercely opposed by legislative leaders who have sued to block its subpoenas.
"I never thought they were legally empowered anyway," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said last week.The commission focused almost exclusively on the legislature, which legislative leaders had argued violated the constitution's protection of the separation of powers.