But Schneiderman backs away from investigation
Jon Campbell http://rochesterdemocrat.ny.newsmemory.com/
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday defended the work of an anti-corruption commission he abruptly dismantled last month, while state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman tried to distance himself from it.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Kelly Donovan, one of Schneiderman’s top deputies and chief counsel for the now-disbanded Moreland Commission, had received a grand jury subpoena from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, the lead federal prosecutor for the lower Hudson Valley and part of New York City.
Cuomo faced criticism from Bharara earlier this month for ending the Moreland panel, which was investigating corruption in the state Legislature, before it was to issue a final report later this year.
When asked Tuesday whether he was aware of any subpoenas issued to Donovan or the Moreland Commission, Schneiderman twice declined comment.
“I can’t comment,” Schneiderman told reporters. “You guys can keep trying, but I can not talk about an ongoing investigation.”
Bharara’s office declined comment, while Donovan did not respond to an email. The subpoena sought emails, text messages and other communications with members of the Moreland panel about its work, according to The Times.
Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission in late March after state lawmakers — who had been fighting the panel’s authority to investigate them — agreed to a series of reforms in the state budget, including tougher anti-bribery laws and a pilot program for matching small political donations with public funds. He launched the commission last year after lawmakers declined to pass a series of similar bills. The creation of the panel was meant to spur reform, Cuomo has argued. In an essay Tuesday for The Huffington Post , Cuomo said that goal was ultimately accomplished.
“The Legislature passed the essence of our legislation just six months after staunchly refusing to act and New York now has real bribery laws, disclosure, and enforcement at the Board of Elections,” Cuomo wrote.
It’s not clear whether Bharara’s office is investigating the Moreland panel itself, or is following up on potential leads uncovered in the commission’s halted investigation.
In his op-ed, Cuomo said he has directed his administration to be “fully cooperative” with any prosecutors who are “following Moreland leads.” Cuomo didn’t say whether the commission itself had been subpoenaed.
Four members of the Moreland Commission contacted Tuesday said they didn’t know whether the panel’s staff had been subpoenaed. One member, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, criticized the ethics package that was ultimately approved by lawmakers.
Zugibe, a Democrat, said he’s disappointed more of the recommendations included in a 2013 report from the commission weren’t included. The report recommended a number of changes to the state’s campaign finance laws that ultimately weren’t passed, including the closing of a loophole that allows big-money donors to flout campaign donation limits by setting up multiple limited liability companies. “I think it provided a roadmap to reducing or eliminating corruption in the state,” Zugibe said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau.
Schneiderman, meanwhile, attempted to distance himself from the work of the commission. He spoke to reporters following a news conference in an Albany suburb.