Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

The idea that New York State government could take on the very real issue of public corruption seems laughable about now.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, following a series of indictments against state lawmakers and other elected officials, launched a Moreland Commission that could have used subpoena power to drag the issue to the fore and curb the state's pay-to-play culture.

But no.

The commission, after releasing a report last year that essentially seconded Cuomo's call for lowering -- and more strictly enforcing -- campaign contribution limits and spending, was abruptly put to death last week.

Instead, the state Board of Elections will get one new investigator and additional staff -- as if a single anti-corruption "enforcer" substitutes for a public corruption commission that was jam packed with prosecutors, including Kathleen Rice, Nassau's district attorney.

To be fair, a truly independent enforcer at the elections board could make a difference -- but only when, or if, the system gets up and running.

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Meanwhile, some state lawmakers and good-government advocates did New Yorkers a favor by outing the state's actions.

Instead of making anti-corruption, ethics and campaign finance policies stronger, the advocates say, Cuomo and state lawmakers quietly weakened them.

"You see it a lot in Albany," Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said in a Newsday story Wednesday. "The public rhetoric is completely out of sync with the private reality of government."

In short, Albany did what it always seems to do best: Defend itself.

What's astonishing -- although, alas, just as predictable -- is that state leaders defended the changes as the by-product of necessary compromise in the state budget process.

That process also resulted in what legislative leaders called a "landmark bipartisan agreement for a test case in public campaign financing."

That sounds good, except that, according to Horner and others, the measure was so poorly crafted that it was worse than doing nothing.

The measure would have applied only to the state comptroller's race, in which Democrat Thomas DiNapoli -- who began his political career as a teenage Mineola school board member -- is seeking re-election.

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And only for this year's elections, which are all of seven months away.

Good-government groups that support public financing found the plan so flawed that they recommended that candidates not use it.

On Monday, DiNapoli followed their advice, saying he would not participate. That pretty much kills the public financing plan, leaving the link between money and elections stronger than ever.

Over the past eight years, more than 30 New York State officials have been targeted in federal probes.

Just two weeks ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the office of Assemb. William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) and questioned him for an hour about reimbursements for travel expenses. The lawmaker was not arrested.

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Yet, as of this day, New Yorkers have no Moreland Commission, no public finance "test case," no additional staff at the state board of elections and no anti-corruption enforcer.

Looks like business as usual in Albany.