ALBANY – An anti-corruption panel that has come under criticism for its investigatory decisions indicated that it will be issuing subpoenas to get information about the outside income of state lawmakers.
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption said this week it will “aggressively” move forward to obtain the outside income that members from both houses recently refused to voluntarily turn over when recently asked by the panel.
With Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo indicating that the sides are not close to a new ethics package that might dissolve the commission, the panel voted to issue the subpoenas to lawmakers who make more than $20,000 a year in private sector income beyond their base legislative salaries of $79,500.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have retained outside counsel to fight the Moreland request, and the panel’s move is likely to set off a round of court fights.
After weeks of reports about how the commission had been influenced by the Cuomo administration and had been selective in what partisan entities were being probed, the panel said it would begin looking at all major and minor party housekeeping accounts, which political parties can use for expenses such as paying for staff and office rent. The funds are not supposed to be directly used to support individual candidates.
“Everything is on the table. We are looking at everything,” the commission said in a statement.
“Everything” now includes the housekeeping accounts of the state Democratic Party, which Cuomo controls, as well as accounts held by the Republicans, Independence Party, Conservative Party and Working Families Party. The commission had already subpoenaed the housekeeping accounts for the Republican and Democratic campaigns in the Senate, but said it was now adding the GOP and Democratic campaign funds from the Assembly to its subpoena list.
The commission, created earlier this summer by Cuomo when lawmakers refused to go along with a campaign finance package he had sought, said that its probe includes looking at the outside income of lawmakers. It has long been the practice in Albany for legislators to have outside jobs, with occupations including lawyers, dentists, pharmacists and farmers.
The commission noted it asked the Legislature on Aug. 27 to have lawmakers voluntarily turn over the information it wanted, but was rebuffed by the leaders of the Senate and Assembly.
“The commission will continue its mandate of investigating corruption, issuing subpoenas, holding public hearings and will issue our first report on Dec. 1,’’ the panel said in its statement.
The panel and Cuomo have had to defend themselves against criticism in media accounts of the governor’s office having a heavy hand in the day-to-day doings of the investigation and for issuing subpoenas to Republican political committees but not to the state’s Democratic Party that is controlled by Cuomo.