POLITICS
07/23/2014 05:45 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Under Fire For Meddling In Anti-Corruption Panel He Created

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is under fire from good government groups and his potential Democratic primary opponent after a New York Times expose revealed that his office interfered with an anti-corruption panel he created in 2013.

The revelations in the Times article showed that top Cuomo aides worked to stymie investigations by the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption into political firms hired by the governor and major donors to the governor's campaigns. The panel, also known as the Moreland Commission, was created by Cuomo in response to the failure of the state Legislature to pass campaign finance reform legislation in the 2013 session.

Federal investigators, led by Manhattan-based U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, are now probing Cuomo and his aides for possibly interfering with the panel, according to the report.

Cuomo's potential opponent in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, who has submitted signatures to qualify for the primary ballot, called for the governor to resign if the revelations are proved true.

"If Governor Andrew Cuomo directed or even knew that his top aide was obstructing and interfering with the Moreland Commission, he should immediately resign," Teachout said in a statement.

Common Cause New York, an affiliate of the national good government group, said in a statement that, "the people of New York ... should be deeply disturbed by the report's well documented pattern of interference." The group called on Cuomo to enact the commission's recommendations.

David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance reform group active in last year's push for legislation, told The Huffington Post that the revelations show Cuomo has "zero credibility on the issue of money in politics."

"The only way for him and the rest of the people in Albany to bring back their reputation is to pass small-donor public financing," Donnelly said.

Another group at the center of the push for campaign finance reform in the state, Citizen Action of New York, declined to comment on the Times report.

Harvard law professor and campaign finance reform advocate Lawrence Lessig echoed Teachout's sentiments on his blog: "If the charge is true, then Cuomo should go: as quickly as [former New York Gov. Eliot] Spitzer did, for the hypocrisy here is worse, and so the party can get on to electing its next governor -- hopefully this time, one honestly focused on reform."

Lessig operates a super PAC dedicated to electing proponents of campaign finance reform. He has also launched a petition urging the governor to resign.

The Times' three-month investigation showed, through time-stamped emails and multiple interviews, how officials close to Cuomo intervened to prevent the panel from issuing subpoenas to Cuomo's donors and to a political advertising buying firm paid by Cuomo's campaign. The report also detailed how commission members believed their communications were being monitored by Cuomo aides, who were led by the commission's executive director, Regina Calcaterra.

In response to the Times report, the governor's office issued a 13-page rebuttal stating the entire premise of the report was false for a number of reasons, but most prominently for believing the commission was independent, even though Cuomo declared when he created the commission that it would be fully independent and could even investigate his own activities.

The commission was disbanded by the governor in March 2014, after the legislature passed a series of ethics reforms that fell well short of the commission's recommendations. These recommendations included the enactment of a small-donor public financing system modeled on New York City's, the closure of fundraising loopholes that allow for large contributions, increased penalties for corruption offenses and increased disclosure.

The preliminary and ultimately final report from the commission revealed a number of activities that it thought warranted deeper investigations. These included a tax proposal pushed by the state Assembly to benefit select real estate companies, a carveout from the minimum wage law for one retailer, an exemption from an independent contractor law for a favored company and a series of laws tailored to benefit the clients of one lobbyist.

Bharara, a critic of the commission's disbanding, picked up the commission's materials so he could further pursue investigations.

In July, Bharara indicted state Sen. Thomas Libous, who has pleaded not guilty. He was charged with lying to FBI agents about arranging for a lobbying firm to pay his son through a second firm, in exchange for Libous steering business to the lobbying firm.

It is unclear if Libous' indictment was related to material uncovered by the Moreland Commission, but Donnelly believes Bharara's office will pursue cases based on evidence the commission produced.

"This is a system wide corruption in Albany," Donnelly said. "You could replace Cuomo tomorrow and you'd still have rot in Albany."

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