Andrew Cuomo Says It’s OK That He Shut Down an Ethics Commission, Because He Started It

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 23 2014 4:09 PM

Andrew Cuomo Says It’s OK That He Shut Down an Ethics Commission, Because He Started It

How to read the New York Times' lengthy report on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the ethics commission he terminated before its time? The story relies on three months of investigation and plenty of quotes, revealing instances when the commission looked into a problem, found it was connected to Cuomo, and was told to back off.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand is to look at Cuomo's office and its response. This is how it started a memo to the NYT.

Your fundamental assertion is that the Commission was independent. It wasn’t. No Moreland Commission can be independent from the Governor’s office. It is purely a creation of the Governor’s power under the law, which vests subpoena power in the Governor or his designee. Governor Al Smith twice appointed himself as a Moreland Commission. This Commission, by law, reports directly to the chamber. It is appointed by the governor. It is staffed by executive employees. Its appointees often have preexisting relationships with the governor.
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That's pretty brazen. When I was in New York last week, Cuomo's challenger Zephyr Teachout told Democratic voters to pay attention to the throttled commission.

"He's become part of this broken system," said Teachout. "He himself is now getting investigated by a federal prosecutor for meddling with the Moreland Commission. The Moreland Commission, which he set up to investigate corruption, then shut down prematurely."

Today, Teachout told the New York Daily News that the NYT's story made it hard for Cuomo to carry on. "If Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed or even knew that his top aide was obstructing and interfering with the Moreland Commission, he should immediately resign," she said. "When he set up the Moreland Commission, he said it would be independent and people can sleep better at night."

And then he ran a TV ad about it.

But the argument made after Cuomo shut down the commission, and the argument made to the NYT today, is that it was his—it was a commission that investigated other people, that shook the legislature loose, and once that was accomplished Cuomo could end it.

If Cuomo was the only Democrat running for governor, there might be less friendly fire today. But Teachout is a friend and stalwart of Democratic Party and progressive reform movements, and it did not take long for MayDay PAC's Larry Lessig to weigh in with another call for Cuomo to go.

"If the charge is true, then Cuomo should go: as quickly as Spitzer did," said Lessig, "for the hypocrisy here is worse."

Lessig's PAC has hit its fundraising goals, notching more than $5 million to spend on to-be-determined campaign finance test cases. When I talked to Lessig, he was not yet ready to say which five elections Mayday would enter, only that the PAC would make those elections about corruption in politics.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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