The creation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s latest special investigative panel offers him potential public-relations rewards heading into an election year.
This new Moreland Act commission is expected to pursue election-law violations and weaknesses and call for systemic changes. Governmentally, such an effort has ample rationale. Even Albany players averse to public campaign financing acknowledge the state’s general laxity of election-law enforcement. So there is likely to be low-hanging fruit for these probers, led by executive director Regina Calcaterra, to pick.
Cuomo undoubtedly knows he could benefit politically on a few fronts. Launching the probe sends campaign-finance reform advocates a message that the governor is still with the cause. It could turn up heat on the State Senate, where his campaign-finance bill was rejected. And, the next time U.S. attorneys Preet Bharara or Loretta Lynch announce criminal charges against a sitting legislator, the administration can speak of how the state probe is under way, perhaps adjusting its sights to new revelations.
Depending on what it finds, the new commission could move discussion toward or away from state ethics issues raised in recent months. Limitations of the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, created by Cuomo and lawmakers, drew partisan and editorial criticism in the recent sexual-harassment case of former Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).
Earlier, questions arose about the transparency of the Cuomo-philic Committee to Save New York — supported by real-estate, business and private labor unions — a top spender on lobbying activities in 2011 and 2012, according to the ethics commission.
Just for the record, Democrat Cuomo is widely expected to have many more millions of dollars to spend on next year’s governor’s race than whoever becomes his GOP opponent. There are some strong campaign fundraisers on his commission — among them, 10 elected district attorneys from around the state, including Nassau DA Kathleen Rice. And Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman — likely to be a party ticket-mate of Cuomo again next year — is deputizing the panel’s members to widen their legal powers.
Questions linger. With the commission due to examine the state Board of Elections, will flaws also be exposed among local election boards? Could constitutional disputes arise over executive-legislative boundaries? A preliminary report is due before January — fairly soon for a complex topic.