The second public hearing held by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commission to probe public corruption featured testimony from long time government reform groups. Many brought more evidence that they say shows potential corruption involving money and politics.
Protesters outside the hearing were advocating for public campaign finance reform, chanting “money out, voters in,” and displaying a wall of shame, featuring pictures and likenesses of dozens of politicians who’ve been indicted, arrested, convicted or jailed in recent years.
Citizen Action’s Jessica Wisneski is one of many from good government groups who testified. She says she’s even more concerned about what goes on legally in state government all the time, and noted that corporations and other interests routinely donate large sums to politician’s campaigns.
“I hope they’ll use their subpoena power to absolutely put people on the stand and ask for the truth,” Wisneski said.
Inside, major government reform groups repeated their longtime complaints about state government, presenting new evidence of what they say is a pay-to-play culture between politicians and their campaign donors.
The group Citizens Union issued a report regarding $3 billion in the state budget, in various pots of money, that they say operate as veritable slush funds for state lawmakers to distribute to projects with little oversight and accountability. Some of the money is left over from the now discontinued member item program for lawmakers. Executive Director Dick Dadey says former state Senate Leader Malcolm Smith attempted to use one of these pots of money- a fund for multi modal transportation -when he allegedly tried to bribe his way onto the Republican mayoral ticket in New York City.
Commissioners seemed interested in making changes. Moreland Commission Co-chair and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick asked Dadey that if he were given subpoena power, what would he do with it?
“Follow the money,” Dadey replied.
Dadey says he would track down which legislators were involved in deciding where the money goes, something he says is not made public.
“Connect the dots,” he said.
Others testified about the campaign contribution loopholes created by the use of Limited Liability Corporations, or LLC’s, to shield the identity of donors and allow them to exceed campaign contribution limits, making New York a "de facto unlimited contribution state," in the words of Common Cause’s Brian Paul.
Many of the groups called for a public financing system for state offices, similar to New York City’s largely successful small donor matching fund program.
But when one of the commissioners asked the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Bill Mahoney if that was the most important thing, Mahoney said no.
“The most important change overall is an independent enforcement and regulatory entity,” said Mahoney. “Any changes to the law without this would probably be rendered moot.”
The Moreland Commission will hold at least two more hearings, then issue its recommendations in December.