Passage of campaign finance reform in doubt
ALBANY -- Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a co-chair of a state anti-corruption commission, said investigations would continue into 2014 even as lawmakers and analysts cast doubt Tuesday on the panel's recommendation that New York move to publicly funded political campaigns.
Rice said the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption's probes into legislative grants and other issues have just begun to "scratch the surface."
The panel, known informally as the Moreland Commission, issued a set of campaign-finance and anti-corruption proposals Monday that very closely matched ideas Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unsuccessfully pitched to the State Legislature in June, prompting Cuomo to create the panel. Chief among them: moving to publicly financed campaigns, as is done in New York City elections.
Republicans in the State Senate and Assembly vowed to oppose the idea, and Cuomo acknowledged the proposal didn't even win a unanimous backing from his hand-picked Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.
One analyst said Cuomo would have a hard time getting lawmakers to go along with all of the recommendations. Hank Sheinkopf said what's more valuable to the governor is the "political separation" from the legislature he could gain by pushing the issue.
"It's not likely the legislature will act entirely in a way the governor wants," said Sheinkopf, who works with Democrats. "But it will separate him from the legislature. It gives him tremendous political space as the guy who believes in reform."
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Republicans continue to oppose publicly financed campaigns, saying it could cost taxpayers "upwards of $200 million."
"Senate Republicans continue to oppose the creation of a statewide campaign finance system funded by taxpayers, which would needlessly divert resources away from our schools, infrastructure and initiatives to provide tax relief for hardworking families," Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said. He said the GOP was open to talking about the panel's recommendations during the 2014 legislative session, which begins in January.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) said public funding "would do nothing to address the abuses of office that we've seen in state government."
Notably, a corruption commission member said in a television interview that the panel never investigated Cuomo or Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, the two Democrats who appointed its members. Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney told YNN it would be a "mockery" to "pretend" the panel looked at either official during the its four-month probe.
Schneiderman issued a statement saying, "I respectfully but strongly disagree" with Mahoney's view, adding that the panel had the authority to look at every branch of government.
Rice agreed. "She doesn't speak for the commission," Rice said of Mahoney. "I think that was her personal view. But she was wrong on both counts."
Asked what in the commission's work would reflect that, Rice noted the recommendations were an "interim report" and that the panel won't conclude until next year.
"We've just begun to scratch the surface," Rice said.
The report noted examples of nonprofits connected to lawmakers receiving state grants, but didn't name names.
Echoing the governor, Rice said there was more urgency now to move to publicly financed campaigns. She said the New York City model decreased the influence of big donors and got "more everyday New Yorkers" involved in elections.
The Moreland Commission also supported recommended lowering campaign contributions limits, closing loopholes that allow companies to ignore the current state's contribution limits, clamping down on lawmakers' use of campaign funds, toughening penalties for bribery and giving Cuomo the power to appoint a special counsel to investigate election-law violations.
Cuomo promoted all of those as part of his proposed "Public Trust Act" during the legislative session after a spate of indictments and convictions of state legislators.
Democrats in the legislature have routinely supported bills to create a public-financing system for elections.Cuomo said he wasn't surprised that "even among the commission" there was a split on public financing of campaigns -- 18 members supported it, seven opposed. Talking with reporters