Public Corruption Commission a dud – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the January 3-9, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Governor Andrew Cuomo has created more commissions to examine controversial issues than any New York chief executive in recent decades.

His prime motive for employing this approach to governing: It gives the impression that “objective” outsiders have given a “seal of approval” to public policy plans the governor has already decided.

An example of such a wired report is the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption’s report released Dec. 2.

The Moreland Act, passed at the behest of Gov. Charles Evans Hughes in 1906, has had a rich history. It vests in the governor broad unilateral power to create an investigative commission – with authority to issue subpoenas and take testimony – to document corruption, fraud or wrongdoing by public figures.

In the 1970s, Gov. Hugh Carey empanelled Moreland Commissions that successfully investigated the operations of nursing home facilities and the Urban Development Corp., which had defaulted on tax-exempt bonded debt.

To ensure honest reports that detailed the ugly reality of a given scandal and made serious reform proposals, governors appointed panels of renowned “wise men” who were above partisan politics. This was not the case, however, in the Public Corruption Commission. Cuomo appointed a bunch of elected district attorneys from around the state – politicians who raise campaign money, mostly from fellow lawyers.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who has been serving as co-chairwoman of the commission, has proved why it was a bad decision to appoint elected officials. She was criticized on Dec. 18 by Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs for not filing criminal witness-tampering or other election law charges against former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale and others involved with the campaigns of County Executive Edward Mangano and former Freeport Mayor Nassau Hardwick.

The essence of Jacobs’ complaint is that the DA’s decision was a political decision, not a sound legal one. He has demanded a federal investigation while other political wags have called for the Public Corruption Commission to investigate its own co-chair.

The preliminary commission report issued in early December summarizes the obvious: “An epidemic of public corruption has infected the state.” The commission boasts that it has performed “robust” and “aggressive” investigations utilizing a “leading investigative and risk analytics consulting firm to integrate vast datasets using a unique and versatile data analytics tool originally developed for use in the counter-terrorism context,” but it didn’t really turn up anything new or startling. And its panacea for eliminating corruption is, not surprisingly, identical to the governor’s position: public financing of campaigns, lower campaign contributions and limited campaign accounts.

Forcing taxpayers to pay for political campaigns is absurd. As New York City pols have proved, the introduction of publicly financed campaigns does not halt corruption.

Some city pols scam public financing rules, raising $6 in public money for or every $1 raised in small donations, generating tens of thousands of matching dollars – not to win an election, but to pay salaries of cronies and relatives on their campaign payrolls.

Politicians throughout New York have reached corrupt lows because of a warped definition of ethics.

Campaign finance reforms will not curtail public corruption. That end will require spiritual and cultural reforms that change the moral compass of many politicians.

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