When Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption last July, it came with a pledge to give the panel free rein and independence to investigate any branch of government it saw fit—including the governor’s office.
Nine months later, Cuomo said he couldn’t “interfere” with the Moreland panel because it was his to begin with.
And this week, as The New York Times reported on a top Cuomo aide’s efforts to pull back planned subpoenas to Cuomo allies, Cuomo’s office said the Moreland Commission was never independent to begin with.
So how did we get here? Let’s look at Cuomo’s changing comments on the commission’s independence:
May/June 2013: Cuomo threatens to convene a Moreland Commission if lawmakers don’t agree to a slate of new anti-corruption laws.
July 1, 2013: “It’s an independent commission that is free to investigate whatever they believe needs to be investigated on the merits,” Cuomo said. “It’s not about the Legislature. It’s about enforcing the campaign finance laws in this state. It is not about any one branch or the other.”
July 2, 2013: Cuomo appoints 25 members to the Moreland Commission. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman deputizes the members of the panel to give them broader investigatory powers.
Aug. 29, 2013: “Anything (the Moreland Commission) wants to look at, they can look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” Cuomo said. “They have total control and ability to look at whatever they want to look at.”
Dec. 2, 2013: The Moreland Commission releases a preliminary report—the only one it issued during its lifespan—blasting the political culture in Albany and recommending a series of changes.
March/April 2014: Cuomo abruptly disbands the Moreland Commission after state lawmakers agree to a series of tougher anti-bribery laws and a pilot program for public campaign financing as part of the state budget.
April 24, 2014: Cuomo speaks to the Crain’s New York Business editorial board. ““It’s not a legal question. The Moreland Commission was my commission,” Cuomo said. “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”
July 23, 2014: In a 13-page response to questions from The New York Times, Cuomo’s office says the Moreland Commission was never independent. “First, your fundamental assertion is that the Commission was independent,” Cuomo’s office wrote. “It wasn’t. No Moreland Commission can be independent from the Governor’s office.”
More from the response to The Times:
- “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.”
- “You suggest the Commissioners and staff wanted to be independent. Well they couldn’t be because they really weren’t. Again, they were given investigative decision capacity by the Governor, which again they say was adhered to, but it was not actually independent.”
(File photo by Kristopher Radder / Press & Sun-Bulletin)