Alas, poor Moreland! I knew him.
The Moreland Commission will remain an issue for Governor Cuomo in his quest for reelection. Ironically, the issue is one of his own creation. Governor Cuomo set up the commission to investigate corruption in Albany after it experienced a seemingly endless series of scandals.
It was empowered to stop the corrupting influence of campaign donations from interest groups and lobbyists. Mr. Cuomo promised to restore the public’s trust in the political process. This was supposed “to clean up Albany.”
Mr. Cuomo assured the people that they would “sleep better” knowing the commission would be the mechanism to assure government would meet “the highest ethical and legal standards.” The commission, established in July 2013, was quickly hamstrung by objections and interference from the governor’s office.
The New York Times reported that, barely two months after its creation, its investigators, looking for campaign finance law violations, issued a subpoena for the records of a media-buying firm, Buying Time, that had done millions of dollars of work for the New York State Democratic Party. The firm also did work for Mr. Cuomo during his campaign for governor in 2010.
After the governor’s office was informed, a senior Cuomo aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz, called William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney of Syracuse, one of the commission’s three co-chairpeople, to tell him, “This is wrong” and to pull back the subpoena. The subpoena was withdrawn.
The Moreland Commission, before its untimely demise, developed a list of promising targets which included a lawmaker suspected of using campaign funds to support a girlfriend in another state. The panel also investigated campaign finance activities of state politicians that skirted existing regulations.
Mr. Cuomo dismantled the commission in March, 2014 after state legislators promised to adopt stricter ethics regulations. The conclusion to the crusade for restoration of public trust was widely believed to be a compromise between state legislative leaders who accepted Mr. Cuomo’s budget priorities in exchange for his elimination of the threat of investigation.
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, initiated a federal investigation into the commission’s unfinished cases and promised to finish its work.
Will the Moreland mess have an effect on the upcoming election. The answer is, “No.” Although many voters are not familiar its history, a recent Siena College poll revealed that 49 percent of voters asked believed that Governor Cuomo and his office interfered with the work of the Moreland Commission.
Governor Cuomo’s great successes — reducing taxes, delivering timely budgets, providing business incentives, funding universal pre-K programs and providing strong leadership in Albany — should not empower him to renege on his promise to change Albany. The old “smoke filled room” and “pay to play” politics that has dominated it must end.
He faces a law school professor named Zephyr Teachout in the primary and will face Westchester Executive Rob Astorino in the regular election. The Siena poll indicated that 57 percent of voters have no opinion of the Mr. Astorino. When asked which candidate they believed would do a better job cleaning up Albany corruption, approximately half said “neither one of them.”
Mr. Cuomo retains a positive rating among voters although it slipped from 61 percent to 57 percent. However, voters by a 51 percent to 38 percent margin, say they would reelect him to another four-year term. Mr. Cuomo has amassed a huge war chest for the race and, with approximately 11 weeks to Election Day, Mr. Cuomo is in control of the election. There still is some fallout.
The New York Times concluded that the governor’s office deeply compromised the commission’s work, by objecting whenever it paid attention to a group with ties to Mr. Cuomo. Its editorial board announced it will not endorse Mr. Cuomo in the upcoming races because he “failed to perform” on his promise to clean up Albany, but it did not endorse the Democrat challenger Zephyr Teachout in the September 9 primary even though she has promised to be a campaign finance reformer and anti-corruption advocate.
It is inconceivable that she can defeat Mr. Cuomo in any race with or without an endorsement. Mr. Astorino with little recognition amongst voters has no chance to defeat Mr. Cuomo in the November regular election.
The New York State PEP union and the New York State chapter of the National Organization of Women, in a slap to Mr Cuomo, endorsed Ms. Teachout. Will it make a difference? No. Do the people of this state deserve more in the way of campaign finance and ethical reform? Yes.