After a scare in which it appeared the commission investigating corruption in state government might be pressured to ease up, matters appear to be back on course. That’s good news for voters and for those lawmakers who don’t have anything to hide from them.
Plainly, though, some do.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption when lawmakers flatly refused to pass laws that would deal effectively with the putrescence that has seeped into every pore of state government. Legislators, their leaders, a state comptroller and even a governor have been run out of office over crimes of either a public or private nature. Many have been convicted.
The pervading sense of entitlement that permeates Albany needed to be broken and lawmakers weren’t up to the job. Indeed, they weren’t even interested in the job; they like things how they are – creating safe districts, hiding conflicts of interest from voters, maintaining their power and the tidy incomes that accompany it.
It was against that backdrop that Cuomo formed the Moreland Commission, armed with additional authority from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to provide it the power to issue subpoenas beyond the executive branch.
Yet, that is where the trouble began. Not only was the commission peering under rocks in the Legislature – potentially causing political problems for the governor as the new budget season approaches – but it was also looking at the political parties, themselves, including the housekeeping account of the state Democratic Party, which Cuomo controls.
Word began circulating that Cuomo’s lieutenants were pressuring the commission to drop certain subpoenas, a dismaying report to those who were counting on this governor to finally call a halt to the Albany way of things. Whether that, or something like it, happened or not, the public response certainly was heard. The commission seems freshly determined to show its spine.
“Everything is on the table. We are looking at everything,” the commission said in a statement. It’s going to cause a fight – one that is well worth waging.
The commission says it will move “aggressively” to obtain the outside income of lawmakers who make more than $20,000 a year in private-sector income beyond their legislative salaries of $79,500. Legislators from both chambers recently refused to turn over their information voluntarily – and does anyone wonder why? – so the subpoenas are coming.
Legislators have already retained outside counsel; litigation is all but certain. They have claimed that they are beyond the reach of a Moreland Commission, which by law can investigate only executive branch agencies. But because Schneiderman deputized the commission members, they have authority beyond that of a traditional Moreland Commission.
If lawmakers aren’t frightened, you wouldn’t know it from their resistance to the idea that constituents have a right to know if their lawmakers are being compromised by outside sources of income that can pose conflicts.
Generally, there is no problem with lawmakers having other sources of income. No one should begrudge them that – unless those incomes interfere with their ability to do the job for which voters hired them. That’s what the commission wants to find out and it’s what New Yorkers have a right to know.
Full speed ahead.