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AG: Cuomo’s proposed ethics fix would violate checks and balances

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Sept.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Sept. 23, 2016 in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer


Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Thursday criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to create a prosecutor who would investigate the awarding of state contracts but would report only to the governor as a ploy to avoid independent oversight.

“Such a scheme violates the fundamental checks-and-balances principle that underlines our state constitution,” Schneiderman wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. “It does not establish the independence required of a procurement watchdog and therefore will not achieve the real accountability and reform our state desperately needs. It is also likely unconstitutional.”

The proposal is part of a potential legislative session next week which would include raising legislators’ base pay by about 25 percent, to $99,500, for the part-time jobs. Although there was still no agreement as of Thursday afternoon in closed-door talks to hold a special session, lawmakers were advised to consider returning to Albany on Tuesday, a legislative source said.

Cuomo’s procurement reform has been proposed amid a federal investigation involving state contracts. Federal prosecutors charged one of Cuomo’s longtime top aides, Joseph Percoco, and a longtime associate, lobbyist Todd Howe, of exacting payments from developers to land massive state contracts. Cuomo isn’t accused of wrongdoing.

Newsday analysis in October found that many construction and development companies who were among Cuomo’s top campaign contributors also received state contacts and tax breaks ( Cuomo has denied that any contractor was favored because of any campaign contributions.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Thursday that Cuomo’s new procurement proposal “can only be a positive” in combatting corruption.

“We saw just yesterday another example of the failure of the current system with corruption in the comptroller’s office, which was missed by both the comptroller and the attorney general’s office,” Azzopardi said Thursday.

Azzopardi said Schneiderman missed “obvious warning signs” in the case involving a portfolio manager for the state pension system who was accused Wednesday of a pay-to-play scheme. The former manager is accused by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of using his official position to obtain cocaine, prostitutes, exotic travel, watches and cash.

The continuing federal probe into contract awards by the Cuomo administration “cries out for more independent scrutiny, not less,” said Eric Soufer, the attorney general’s director of communications and senior counsel for policy.

“Yet, rather than work with and provide additional powers to the attorney general and comptroller to root out fraud and corruption, the governor’s proposal would allow executive agencies to simply police themselves,” Soufer said. “Self-policing does not work. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house.”

The portfolio manager was fired in February and the Comptroller’s Office has been working with federal agents on the case, said Jennifer Freeman, spokeswoman for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

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