Government watchdog groups are calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to turn over internal documents from an anti-corruption commission that he created and then disbanded nine months later.
The governor and his aides worked to stop the panel from looking into groups with close ties to Cuomo, the New York Times reported today in a front-page article. It was based on reviews of hundreds of e-mails, subpoenas and internal documents as well as interviews with more than 36 commission members, staff and other officials, according to the Times.
Common Cause New York and the New York Public Interest Research Group said the governor should provide e-mails and other documents showing his administration’s involvement and take questions from the public.
“That’s a bare beginning,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, said in a telephone interview. “He has to move forward with all of the recommendations made by the commission, including public campaign financing.”
Blair Horner, legislative director for NYPIRG, said in a statement that “New Yorkers have a right to expect that public officials meet the highest ethical standards.”
The 56-year-old Democrat empaneled the commission last year under the 1907 Moreland Act, which gives a New York governor broad investigative powers. He created it after lawmakers didn’t pass an ethics package Cuomo pushed following the arrests of two senators and an assemblyman in 2013.
At the time, he said in public statements and in a television commercial paid for by his campaign that the panel would be independent. He’s since said that he could intervene because it was his commission.
In March, Cuomo shut down the panel because, he said, it had achieved its goal of getting lawmakers to agree to new ethics and campaign rules. Though he included public financing of campaigns in his January budget proposal, the plan was dropped from the final version.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara criticized the move and said he would take over the commission’s investigations.
“Nine months may be the proper and natural gestation period for a child, but in our experience not the amount of time necessary for a public corruption prosecution to mature,” Bharara said.
The Times story detailed exchanges among Cuomo, his top aide, Larry Schwartz, and commissioners as they reportedly sought to keep the panel from targeting the governor’s real estate industry backers and a firm that helped with campaign advertisements. Though the governor’s meddling was first reported by the New York Daily News last year, the Times presented a full account in the middle of an election year.
Cuomo’s opponents on both sides of political spectrum are already seizing the opportunity. Zephyr Teachout, who is running against Cuomo in the Democratic primary, said the governor should resign because he violated the public’s trust. Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger, said the Times article revealed “clear obstruction of justice and calculated dishonesty” by Cuomo.
In a 13-page letter in response to questions from the Times, the Cuomo administration said the commission wasn’t independent, which it said undermines the central premise of the article.
“No Moreland Commission can be independent from the Governor’s office,” the letter, which the Times published, said. “It is purely a creation of the Governor’s power.”
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the article today.