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New York's Moreland Commission is a Good Step but Not Enough

J. Mijin Cha

Despite a year filled with corruption scandals, the New York State legislature failed to adopt a public financing program—a necessary step in removing the outsized influence of money in politics. Senate Democrats proposed a last minute amendment to another bill before the end of the legislative session, but it failed because it did not receive support from every member of the Democratic conference. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, announced an investigatory panel using the governor’s authority under the Moreland Act.

The 25-member panel will pursue cases of misconduct among public officials and recommend changes to the state’s election and campaign fund-raising laws.  The AG will appoint commission members as deputy attorneys general and the commission can issue subpoenas and examine witnesses under oath. A preliminary report on its findings will be issued by December 1st. In particular, the commission will look at:

  • Criminal statutes for corruption and misconduct by public officials, such as bribery laws.
  • Campaign financing including but not limited to contribution limits and other restrictions; disclosure of third-party contributions and expenditures; and the effectiveness of existing campaign finance laws.
  • Compliance of outside organizations and persons with existing lobbying laws, including but not limited to organizations engaged in lobbying and other efforts to influence public policies and elections, and the effectiveness of such laws.
  • Adequacy and enforcement of the State’s election laws and electoral process including: the structure and composition of the State and County Boards of Elections, the Board of Elections’ enforcement, and the effectiveness of and compliance with existing election laws.

The legislature’s inability to pass a public financing program is disappointing, especially given that public financing has overwhelming bi-partisan support in the state and there were three separate proposals that could have been adopted. The Moreland Commission is a good step, but in reality, New Yorkers know there is corruption and they know that public financing can help fix the system. As shown in Connecticut, public financing brings more donors into the system and helps reduce the outsized influence of corporate and affluent interests.

Without a real game changer, like public financing, the electoral system will continue to be dominated by a few big money interests. The result is that policies that help working and middle class families continue to be placed on the back burner while those that help affluent interests are prioritized. We need to shift the balance of power back into the hands of constituents and bring integrity back into our democracy.