For years — since before he was NY State’s governor — we’ve raised questions about Andrew Cuomo’s activities. When he was Attorney General, he often used that position to grandstand around various issues that sounded good politically, but were real world disasters. He browbeat ISPs into policing the internet, when they had no legal obligation to, with bogus threats of lawsuits — even pushing them to install spyware to snoop on everyone’s traffic. He was among the leaders of the group of Attorneys General who wanted to blame high-profile internet companies for the way consumers used them, and he tried to broker a “3 strikes” system to kick file sharers offline. Since becoming governor, he’s been embroiled in a bunch of scandals, including having staffers use private email accounts to hide their work from Freedom of Information laws.
Now, however, things are heating up.
The NY Times has reported that Cuomo’s greatly hyped “corruption commission” appeared to be nothing more than a front group for Cuomo himself. That is, he seemed fine with it investigating “corruption” of others, but if it came anywhere near him or his friends, Cuomo’s people ordered the commission to back away — and they did. The crowning anecdote:
It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.
The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.
Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.
“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:
“Pull it back.”
The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.
“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.
That last line is fairly incredible, isn’t it? They don’t even come up with any kind of excuse. They just admit that when the government asked them to stop digging into things involving his friends, they did. The NY Times article is incredibly damning, highlighting how Cuomo promised the committee would be totally independent, even directly saying that it was free to investigate him and his associates. But, the reality was quite different. And Cuomo doesn’t seem to care. His response is that of course he was allowed to meddle in the commission’s affairs since it was hiscommission. Here’s what Cuomo said when the commission was set up:
Mr. Cuomo said early on that the commission would be “totally independent” and free to pursue wrongdoing anywhere in state government, including in his own office. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said last August.
Here’s what his “office” said now in response to the NYT’s inquiry about the story:
First, 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.
Right. Furthermore, Cuomo’s response is that it would be a conflict of interest for the panel to investigate the governor, since he had appointed them. Talk about a brilliant anti-corruption strategy. The prevailing party gets to appoint the panel, block its use against any friends or those in the ruling party, and then the panel can only target the Governor’s enemies. Damn. That’s sneaky. And obnoxious. And, well, it seems to us, incredibly corrupt.
Larry Lessig, who (of course) has been studying corruption, explains just how corrupt this whole thing was:
The corruption here is different — and much much worse. If an aide to the chief corruption reformer in NY has corruptly interfered with a corruption investigation, then NY doesn’t need that “corruption reformer” anymore — because that’s not what he is.
If this charge is true, then this is a governor who believes himself above the law. THAT is the keystone of corruption.
Lessig notes that Cuomo should resign over this scandal, though it seems unlikely that will happen. Either way, the level of corruption infiltrating our government these days is absolutely sickening. Federal prosecutors are apparently now investigating the situation, though, it’s not all that often that those in power will take down “one of their own.” Sure, it happens (pretty much all the time if you’re in Illinois), but chances are Cuomo will skate by this one as well. Because that’s how the system functions.
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