Will Cuomo's Moreland Commission Stem Corruption? Doubtful.

The Green Party criticized Governor Cuomo today for his flawed efforts to reduce public corruption in New York State.

The Green Party said it was doubtful that the Commission would do much to prosecute elected officials for corruption, despite the tidal wave of cases against state legislators in the last decade brought by US Attorneys, not county DA’s. The Commission is just another bully pulpit for the Governor to talk but not act on ethics and campaign finance reform in the state legislature – something he was not up to the task of pushing through during his first three years in office.

The Greens said that Cuomo's own fundraising needed to be a principal target of the newly appointed Moreland Commission, starting with his enormous contributions from the gambling industry, the nearly $30 million he has secured for his re-election, and the $15 to $17 million in unreported funding he raised to support his agenda. The Commission needs to place donors under oath to determine whether they were seeking favors in exchange for their contributions.

The Greens faulted Cuomo for focusing on getting casinos and tax-free corporate welfare zones through, instead of public campaign finance, at the end of the legislative session. A provision was also snuck into the casino legislation to permit campaign contributions from the gambling industry. This deal should be probed,. Other suspicious deals from the recent legislation session that should be investigated include providing ten of millions of dollars tax breaks to five luxury condo buildings in NYC and the creation of the so-called teenage minimum wage tax credit which will give companies such as WalMart tens of millions of dollars.

The Green Party had criticized the various campaign finance reforms advanced by Assembly Speaker Silver and Democrat Party leaders as being too limited, and filled with too many loopholes to have much impact in reducing the influence of special interests at the State Capitol. They had also faulted the Fair Elections Coalition for continuing to rally public support for Cuomo despite his repeated refusal to act on campaign finance reform.

“The Moreland Commission appears to be an effort to divert attention from Cuomo’s failure to follow through on his call for real campaign finance reform. It is not a good sign that, after the failure for decades of local District Attorneys to investigate and prosecute political corruption, starting with David Soares in Albany County and the New York City DA’s, that ten DA’s are appointed to the Moreland Commission,” noted Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor in 2010.

The Green Party noted that not one of the commissioners appointed to investigate and recommend reforms has ever advocated the “Clean Money” system of full public financing, which the Greens advocate. In the Clean Money states of Arizona and Maine, candidates qualify for equal public campaign grants by raising a reasonable number of $5 contributions from voters in their district to demonstrate support. The grant is sufficient to get the candidate's message to all voters. Candidates who opt for public money may not raise and spend private money. They only use clean public money.

Hawkins said that the Moreland Commission should at least expose the “legal” public corruption that is rampant in New York State and push for needed reforms. One key target should be state legislators such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, who benefit as partners in law firms with clients who seek business from the state government. It was recently revealed that Silver collects more than $350,000 from his law firm.

The Commission should also investigate top lobbyists and how they sell their former relationships with state legislators to gain clients. For instance, Speaker's Silver former top staff aide, Patricia Lynch, agreed to a fine of $500,000 when Cuomo was Attorney General. Lynch arranged campaign contributions, gifts and even a job to gain access to Alan Hevesi, then the state comptroller, on behalf of clients seeking investments from the multibillion-dollar state pension fund, which Mr. Hevesi supervised, WalMart has been one of Lynch's many clients. Despite the fine, Lynch has remained one of the most influential and well-paid lobbyists in Albany. Hevesi went to prison for his corruption involving the state pension plan.

Another practice that needs to be exposed and ended is individuals having government contracts and subsidies who make campaign contributions. This so-called “pay to play” approach to campaign fundraising has been particularly abused by State Comptrollers, such as Carl McCall in his 2002 gubernatorial race. The state's six billion dollars corporate welfare / economic development program should also be investigated to determine how many recipients make campaign contributions and why.

Earlier this week former Governor Eliot Spitzer said the committee should start with the $17-19 million in "unreported secret money" that Cuomo has raised and spent promoting his legislative agenda.

The commission should also look at other ways that special interests can reward politicians who do favors for them, such as donations to groups in officials’ districts; opening up large bank accounts at firms connected to politicians; hiring of friends; purchase of insurance or other services; etc. Companies can also threaten to relocate jobs based on political decisions, such as PepsiCo in Westchester has done for years around the bottle bill, and gun manufacturers are doing now around gun control.