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Nassau DA: Commission sends out election subpoenas

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks at

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks at the Hofstra University Club. (July 2, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

ALBANY -- A new commission investigating compliance with state elections laws has already sent out subpoenas and will begin public hearings next month, according to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, one of the leaders of the panel.

"Some subpoenas have been sent out, yes, for documents," Rice told reporters Tuesday during a trip to the State Capitol. "The subject matter of them may or may not be able to be made public."

The commission was established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after the state legislature closed the 2013 session without acting on a plan that, among other things, would have given the governor power to appoint an election-law investigator.

Cuomo said the inquiry is needed to restore trust in government after a string of indictments and convictions of state legislators. The commission is supposed to deliver a preliminary report by Dec. 1 and issue a final report at the end of 2014 -- a statewide election year.

Rice, Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and attorney Milton Williams lead the panel.

Rice said she wants to look not only at possible illegalities but also at campaign finance practices that are legal but shouldn't be.

"What I think needs to be exposed is all of the other things that go on, that might not rise to the level of being a crime, but would make someone say: 'Wait a minute, that's not wrong? That's not criminal violation?' " Rice said. "That's what needs to be exposed."

Last month, the legislature's top Republican warned that the commission shouldn't engage in a "witch hunt" against state legislators. Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said of the investigation: "If this is just aimed at the legislature, I think that would be inappropriate. The governor runs for office too."

Rice said the commission would announce public hearings soon.

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