Cuomo criticizes state lawmakers fighting subpoenas on outside income

Nov 26, 2013

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has some harsh words for state lawmakers who are fighting his commission in court regarding subpoenas that would force legislators to reveal their outside business with private legal clients.

Cuomo says state lawmakers fighting the subpoenas are acting like they are concealing something.

“Those that have nothing to hide, disclose,” Cuomo said. “Those that don’t, have an issue.”

An anti-corruption commission appointed by the governor, known as the Moreland Act Commission, subpoenaed state lawmakers who earn more than $20,000 a year from private law firms, asking to see their private client lists. The commissioners are looking for improper pay-to-play relationships, where legislators might have received money in exchange for influencing the passage or prevention of a piece of legislation.

Attorneys for the legislative leaders filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court, saying the commission was overstepping its bounds, and that the governor can’t, under the state’s constitution, investigate the legislature.

However, the Moreland Commission has said that some of the lawmakers are, however, complying with the subpoenas. Cuomo says that makes a mockery of the legislative leaders' claims.

“It belies the argument,” Cuomo said. “If it was really about principle, if it was really about separation of powers, than none of them would be complying.”

Cuomo says technically, it’s the Attorney General’s office that issued the subpoenas, since Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has deputized the Moreland Act Commissioners. And Cuomo says there’s plenty of precedent for that. He says when he was the state’s attorney general from 2007 to 2011, he used the office's powers to probe, among others, former Senate Leader Pedro Espada, who was eventually convicted on corruption charges.

The governor denies that the subpoenas and legal arguments have soured his relationship with the state legislature. He says he recently attended a charity dinner with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and has done Superstorm Sandy relief with Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos.

Meanwhile, several groups are getting ready with their wish lists, one week before the Moreland Commission is due to issue its first major report.

Cuomo and the Moreland Commission co-chairs have already endorsed the public financing of campaigns. The New York Public Interest Research Group’s Bill Mahoney says he hopes the commission will recommend a public financing system based on New York City’s six-to-one matching donor program.

“These are fixes that we need,” Mahoney said.

But a business group is urging the commission not to recommend public campaign financing, and says state lawmakers should not adopt it. Unshackle Upstate, in a report titled "Money for Nothing," says giving taxpayer money to candidates will only create more opportunities for corruption and abuse. The group’s Brian Sampson says New York officials should try enforcing the current rules first. The Moreland Commission, in a recent public hearing, established that the state Board of Elections is not following its mandate to investigate possible violations or to punish those who flaunt the rules.

“You can certainly argue that the current system is very flawed,” said Sampson. But he says if the present rules were enforced, much of that corruption and fraud that we currently see will go away.

Sampson says his group will file a lawsuit if Cuomo and state lawmakers ultimately adopt public campaign financing. They believe that giving public monies to political candidates and legislative campaign committees is a violation of the state’s constitution.