Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created more commissions to examine controversial issues than any N.Y. 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 upon. An example of such a wired report is the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which released its findings on Dec. 2, 2013.
The Moreland Act, passed at the behest of Gov. Charles Evans Hughes in 1906, has had a rich history. The act vests in the governor broad unilateral power to create an investigative commission with authority to issue subpoenas and to take testimony to document corruption, fraud, or wrongdoing.
In the 1970s, for instance, Gov. Hugh Carey empaneled Moreland commissions that successfully investigated the operations of nursing home facilities and the Urban Development Corporation that 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 officials — district attorneys — from around the state who are not “honest brokers” but politicians dependent on existing political structures and who raise campaign money, mostly from fellow lawyers.
Nassau County’s District Attorney, Kathleen Rice, who has been serving as co-chair of the commission, has proved why it was a bad decision to appoint elected officials.
She was criticized on December 18 by her Nassau Democratic Chairman, Jay Jacobs, for not filing “criminal charges of witness tampering or election law violations against former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale and other people involved with the campaign of County Executive Edward Mangano and former Freeport Mayor Hardwick.”
The essence of Jacobs’ complaint is that the DA’s decision not to prosecute 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 co-chair, Ms. Rice.
The preliminary Commission report issued in early December is not impressive. It summarizes the obvious: “An epidemic of public corruption has infected the state” and that too many “have been indicted and convicted for offenses running the gamut of shame: bribery, embezzlement, self-dealing, and fraud.”
The commission, which boasts 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 counterterrorism context,” didn’t really turn up much that is new or startling.
The commission's panacea to eliminate corruption was, not surprisingly, identical to the governor’s position: Public financing of campaigns, lower campaign contributions, and limitations on campaign accounts.
Forcing taxpayers to pay for political campaigns is absurd. As New York City pols have proved, publicly financed campaigns has not halted public corruption.
Some city pols scam $6 for every $1 small-donor matching program. They generate 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. For them ethics is devoid of moral absolutes, that is norms of morality by which one distinguishes right from wrong. They can rationalize illicit behavior because they have adopted a utilitarian amoral system based on the so-called “pleasure principle” which holds that achieving what is best for oneself is all that matters.
Campaign finance reforms will not curtail public corruption. To achieve that end will require spiritual and cultural reforms that change the moral compass of many politicians.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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