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Leaders of Cuomo panel push public financing of campaigns

ALBANY -- In what appears to be a concerted effort, leaders of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's public-corruption commission are making a push in favor of public financing of political campaigns -- a key Cuomo proposal that the State Legislature rejected earlier this year.

The state Republican chairman said in response that the governor and his allies are using the commission to try to gain steam for something Cuomo, a Democrat, couldn't win in this year's legislative session.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the co-chairmen of the "Commission to Investigate Public Corruption," informally known as the Moreland Commission, say that after four months of work they're convinced public financing of statewide campaigns would be a way to limit malfeasance.

"It's only made me more confident that public financing of campaigns has to be part of any meaningful campaign-finance reform," Rice, a Democrat, said, adding that she was speaking for herself and not the rest of the 25-member panel.

Rice made the case for limiting private donations in campaigns. "Infusing huge amounts of private money for public service is a recipe for disaster," she told Newsday.

In the space of about 48 hours, Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Democratic state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who joined with Cuomo to create the commission, said the same argument during public radio interviews.

"I think public financing should be a part of whatever comes out of this," Schneiderman said on "The Capitol Pressroom," an Albany-based show. The commission is slated to issue a report on Dec. 1.

Republican chairman Ed Cox said it's no coincidence that Schneiderman and the commission leaders are pushing a Cuomo initiative.

"Right from the start, the Moreland Commission was designed to promote campaign-finance [proposals]," Cox said. "He disappointed some good-government groups about campaign finance and now he wants to find a way to get campaign-finance reform."

Cox noted that one of the public hearings conducted by the commission focused almost solely on public financing and how it has fared in other jurisdictions.

Cuomo proposed a package of ethics laws in the wake of a string of indictments and convictions of state legislators this spring, including the arrest of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) for allegedly trying to rig the New York mayoral primary. Smith has pleaded not guilty.

Cuomo has pushed for using public funds to finance campaigns and granting him authority to appoint a special counsel to investigate election-law violations. Republicans opposed the former and lawmakers of both stripes said the latter was an expansion of gubernatorial powers.

After the legislature rejected the package, Cuomo formed the corruption panel. He has said reforms are necessary to restore public confidence in state government.

Sources have said that leaders have discussed possible compromises on ethics legislation, including offering a statewide referendum on public financing and instituting public financing as a test case for some offices.

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