Moreland Commission meets in Albany as tension with lawmakers increases

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Just days after trading barbs with the state Legislature over a request for lawmakers’ outside clients, an anti-corruption panel created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo met Tuesday near the state Capitol to hear testimony on ways to improve New York’s campaign-finance system.

The Moreland Commission, a wide-reaching panel comprised of mostly current and former prosecutors, heard from a variety of good-government advocates and academics, most of who knocked the state’s campaign laws, political donor limits and lax enforcement mechanisms.

The state’s campaign-finance system has “created a show-me-the-money culture of legalized corruption,” said Brian Paul, research and policy manager for Common Cause/New York. He railed against what he called an “LLC loophole” — a 1997 Board of Elections ruling that allowed donors to get around donation limits by creating multiple limited liability companies to donate to a candidate or committee.

“The evidence is clear: The LLC loophole completely undercuts New York state’s campaign contribution limits and allows special interests free reign to use their financial power to influence our government,” Paul said. “Follow the money of any of the top LLC donors and you are likely to find a trail of special policy favors won, and bills unfavorable to the donor killed on arrival in the Legislature.”

The hearing was the second held by the Moreland Commission, which was created by Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in July to investigate public corruption in New York after a string of lawmaker arrests that began in April.

On Tuesday, Assemblyman William Boyland, D-Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty to soliciting bribes and falsifying state travel records despite prosecutors believing he would agree to a plea deal. Three other state lawmakers — including former Senate Majority Leaders John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, and Malcolm Smith, D-Queens — are awaiting trials for separate corruption charges, while two former legislators wore a wire for prosecutors.

The anti-corruption panel’s work has created tension between Cuomo and state lawmakers, who have had a generally cooperative relationship since he first took office in 2011. Outside attorneys hired by the state Senate and Assembly last week declined to provide information on lawmakers’ outside income and outside clients after it was requested by the panel, drawing a sharp rebuke by a commission spokeswoman.

A group of protesters rallied outside of the commission’s hearing Tuesday, calling on the state to enact a publicly funded system for matching small political donations to candidates. Such a system has met resistance from Senate Republicans, who say it’s inappropriate for public funds to be used on political campaigns.

“The influence of money is so deeply embedded in our system, that only systemic reforms can restore our democratic process and restore New Yorkers’ faith in our government,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action for New York. “That’s why it is so crucial that you focus on systemic reforms, not just on the bad apples.”

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