The co-chairwoman of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission on public corruption, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, says subpoenas have been sent out and more public hearings are planned.
Rice was at the Capitol for the third private meeting of Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission. She says several subpoenas have been issued, but they have to be kept secret for now so that the ongoing investigations won’t be jeopardized.
“It’s important for the public to know that we are in fact issuing subpoenas,” Rice said. “The subject matter of them will be made public at a certain point, as long as it doesn’t affect the integrity of the investigations. I think most people understand.”
Part of the group’s mission is to probe campaign finance records at the New York State Board of Elections, which has failed to even appoint a staff investigator for the past couple of years.
Rice says so far all of the subpoenas are for documents. No individuals are being compelled to testify before the commission at this point.
The Nassau County D.A. says the commission may also be sending out more letters asking various entities to preserve all documents, in anticipation of a probe. Letters have already been sent to the state Board of Elections and the state ethics commission, asking them to preserve all documents.
Rice says she won’t prejudge whether any criminal acts have been committed. But she says there are currently many legal ways to get around New York’s campaign finance law limits that should be outlawed. She says that fuzzy ethical climate has led to the recent wave of arrests of state lawmakers.
“You can say it’s just a couple of bad apples,” Rice said. “Or is it actually the vine that is corrupt? Is it the political system itself that is the problem?”
To that end, the government reform group Common Cause has some suggestions of how to improve the system. They’ve been holding what they call Moreland Mondays. The group’s Susan Lerner says each week they’ve been highlighting an example of loopholes in the laws that allow donors to give many times the legal limit to candidates.
This week, Common Cause focused on the real estate industry. They found that some real estate developers use limited liability companies, or LLCs, which are legal, to exceed the limit of $150,000 in donations for each individual and instead gave over $1 million in contributions. She says even though many of the real estate laws effect New York City, like rent regulations, the developers gave large sums to upstate senators and on Long Island.
“And that to us is troubling,” Lerner said. “It raises questions about the way in which our campaign finance system encourages special interests to use campaign contributions to gain access and influence on public policy.”
Rice agrees that an important part of the Moreland Act Commission is to recommend changes to the state’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws.
She says the commission has already announced three public hearings, and will add even more this fall to highlight some of the changes that need to be made.