Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe today criticized the ethics package that was approved in exchange for the end of the Moreland Commission he served on, saying many of the recommendations the panel made were discarded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature.
Zugibe, a Democrat and one of the 17 members on the commission, said he’s disappointed that more reforms weren’t implemented into law. Cuomo disbanded the investigatory panel in March as part of the state budget and in exchange for some changes to campaign-finance and bribery laws.
Zugibe, in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau, said the commission’s report in December “covered all the bases. I think it provided a roadmap to reducing or eliminating corruption in the state. And had we stayed on that course and were able to see some more of the recommendation implemented, I think it would have had a profound effect on the state.”
Zugibe said the reforms that the sides approved didn’t end loopholes to campaign-finance laws that allow big-money donors to set up limited liability corporations to skirt contribution limits. The reforms also didn’t address that donors can contribute a limitless amount to housekeeping accounts—which are supposed to be used by political parties for campaign building activities.
He continued, “I cannot fathom when the governor sent over the recommended legislation, why would they negotiate out the LLC loophole or the limitations on the housekeeping accounts? Did their constituents want that? Of course not. It was self-preservation.”
Cuomo has been knocked for abruptly ending the commission’s work, which included dozens of investigations into corruption in state government. Now U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is picking up the cases.
Zugibe said the commission, which was made up largely of district attorneys, would have unearthed more misdeeds had it continued: “I am concerned by the fact that those subpoenas had to be withdrawn with the demise of the Moreland Commission because I think those would have shown another very disturbing pattern.”
But he said the cases won’t just end up with Bharara; they are already being reviewed by district attorneys for potential prosecution.
He said that while the Legislature was fighting subpoenas, ones that they did execute showed alleged misuse of campaign cash for personal use.
“The investigative arm was doing a good job proceeding ahead. I think there would have been a lot more findings coming out of it,” he explained. “A lot of it will continue. There was some wrongdoing identified, and immediately the DAs met on it and agreed on how they would be assigned, which jurisdictions would be affected.”
He said he was unaware of any undo pressure put on the commission by Cuomo’s office, which has been alleged. But he said he couldn’t say what “the staff experienced day-to-day.”
“I can tell you right now that if we received any allegations against the governor’s office the people I worked with would have said, ‘Issue the subpoenas,” Zugibe said, adding, “We were never, ever advised that anything is off limits to us.”