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Skeptics: Will new NYS ethics panel do anything?

ALBANY -- The new corruption commission pursuing misconduct in New York government has more teeth than its predecessor two decades ago, but skeptics say the test is whether it recycles rhetoric against persistent Albany corruption or actually bites anyone.

The 25-member commission appointed last week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has 10 county district attorneys. Unlike a previous Moreland Commission, this panel is deputized as deputy assistant attorneys general with clear authority to investigate state legislators.

Top staff members come from Cuomo's and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's staffs, with a longtime federal prosecutor as chief investigator of the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

Like the 1987-90 Moreland Commission, the group is charged with uncovering misdeeds and conflicts and recommending ethics law and oversight. It has authority to subpoena documents and compel testimony. A preliminary report is due Dec. 1, the final report 13 months later. The group is to "promptly" report to the attorney general or prosecutors any evidence of crimes, according to Cuomo's executive order.

"The first order of business is the enforcement function," Cuomo said in making the announcement.

Critics say local prosecutors and the standing state ethics panel already have authority to investigate lobbying violations and prosecute crimes, but the recent criminal cases against state legislators have all come from federal prosecutors.

David Grandeau, New York's former lobbying enforcer, questioned whether this new temporary group will be any more effective than the state Commission on Public Integrity established with both ethics and lobbying oversight in 2007 under then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and its successor, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, that took over under Cuomo, both with some fanfare. They collectively have had dozens of commissioners with sterling resumes and reputations, he said.

Grandeau compared the commissions to the Peanuts character Charlie Brown -- always having the football pulled away at the last minute.

"It's one ethics reform after another," he said.

The Green Party, whose agenda includes environmental and social activism, said it's doubtful this commission will do much to prosecute elected officials, calling it a bully pulpit for Cuomo to talk about ethics and campaign finance reform in the legislature but not get anything done.

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