• New York State Governor Establishes Commission to Investigate Public Corruption
  • July 18, 2013 | Authors: Mark F. Glaser; Joshua L. Oppenheimer
  • Law Firm: Greenberg Traurig, LLP - Albany Office
  • On July 2nd, in response to a series of scandals involving public officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order establishing the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. The Commission has been charged with a broad mission of investigating what the Governor described as “systemic public corruption and the appearance of such corruption in state government, political campaigns and elections in New York State.”

    The new Commission is promptly starting its work. It held its first meeting in a private session during early July. As a result, the Commission issued letters to the State Board of Elections and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics directing those agencies to preserve key documents relevant to the Commission’s charge. Additionally, the Commission has scheduled a series of public hearings in New York City (September 17th), Buffalo (September 18th) and Albany (September 24th). The Governor is requiring that the Commission “issue a preliminary policy report on or before December 1st, 2013,” with the goal of proposing “statutory reforms” that can be acted on by the Legislature and Governor during the 2014 legislative session. The panel would continue its work, issuing a final report by January 1st, 2015.

    The Commission’s duties are detailed in the Executive Order and include investigating:

    • The management and affairs of the State Board of Elections by, among other things,

      • Determining whether the Board is effectively administering the election process and overseeing elections and campaigns;

      • Examining the Board’s interactions with candidates, donors, committees and others, to determine compliance with State laws;

      • Examining the statutory structure, composition, authority, and staffing of the Board, the Board’s organizational structure and its interactions with enforcement agencies; and

      • Examining compliance with and the effectiveness of campaign finance laws, and make recommendations to reform weaknesses identified.

    • Lobbying activity in New York, with a focus on:

      • Whether regulated individuals and entities are complying with the lobbying laws;

      • Individuals and organizations that attempt to influence public policies and elections;

      • Lobbying and political activity by organizations that are exempt from taxation under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code;

      • The sufficiency of requirements enforced by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics; and

      • The need to reform any existing State laws, rules or regulations.

    • Weaknesses in existing laws, regulations, and procedures to address public corruption, conflicts of interest, and ethics in State government, and make recommendations to improve these policies.

    The Commission is comprised of three co-chairs, 22 members, and four special advisers. Included in this group are: 16 current or former district attorneys and assistant attorneys general; nine lawyers who are in private practice or academia; a current County Executive; the Superintendent of the State Police; the Police Commissioner of the City of New York; and a representative from a statewide good government group. In addition, the Commission has appointed four staff members - an Executive Director, a Chief of Investigations, a Chief Counsel and a Legislative Director.

    All of the Commissioners who are attorneys have been appointed as Deputy Attorneys General, and have been “delegate[ed]. . . the authority to exercise . . . investigative powers,” including “subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, examine them under oath before himself or a magistrate and require that any books, records, documents or papers relevant or material to the inquiry be turned over to him for inspection, examination or audit.” Provided, however, all three co-chairs must approve any subpoena before it is issued. If the Commission ultimately identifies any evidence of violations of existing laws, the Commission is required to notify the “Attorney General and other appropriate law enforcement authorities, and . . . facilitate jurisdictional referrals where appropriate.”

    Although the Commission’s mission is framed as investigating existing State laws and agencies, many individuals, business entities, and not-for-profit organizations involved in New York State political activity, including making campaign contributions or engaging in lobbying activity - either as lobbyists or clients of lobbyists - are likely to be affected by this investigation. This will include individuals and entities that have been wholly compliant with existing laws, as well as individuals who may have either inadvertently or intentionally violated current campaign finance, lobbying or ethics laws.