Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Shortly after two state lawmakers turned themselves in on federal corruption charges, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement calling on the legislature to, "pass comprehensive ethics reform - now." Cuomo has made ethics reform a key part of his agenda, although meetings with state lawmakers seem to have yielded little but talk so far.
Today's statement went on to say:
I reaffirm my commitment to clean up Albany and state clearly that either ethics legislation will be passed or I will form a Moreland Commission by the end of this legislative session.
With apologies to all you policy wonks who talk causally about things like Moreland Commissions, some of us had to look up exactly what that was. Since we (e-hem, I) went through the effort to find out, here's the scoop.
As it turns out, a Moreland Commission gives the Governor the power examine and investigate the management of state bodies (he's looking at you, state legislature!). The law, introduced by Sherman Moreland, the Republican leader in the assembly, at the urging of Governor Charles Evans Hughes, was passed and signed way back in 1907, according to the New York State Archives.
Here's a full description:
The Moreland Act, now Section 6 of the Executive Law (formerly Section 7, 1907-1909, and Section 8, 1909-1951), authorizes the governor, "either in person or by one or more persons appointed by him for the purpose, to examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state." Investigators were empowered to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, hold hearings, and subpoena "any books or papers deemed relevant or material." Moreland Act commissions derive their power from that act and from Executive Law Section 63.8.
Basically, if the lawmakers don't come to a mutual agreement on ethics reform by the end of the session, Cuomo is threatening to form a commission that would dig deep into the inner workings of the Assembly and Senate.
Now how is this different from that standing state agency called the New York State Commission on Public Integrity? "We have no jurisdiction over the legislature," said Walter Ayers, a spokesperson the state agency. The New York State Commission of Public Integrity has jurisdiction over lobbyists, state officers and employees in the executive branch of government. Cuomo's potential Moreland Commission could shine its spotlight on the legislative branch.
So are two of the men in the room making strong statements on the future of the ethics reform legislation to buffer against the threat of a Moreland Commission?
From Speaker Silver:
Hopefully, today’s events will fuel a three-way agreement on ethics reform legislation.
And from the senate spokesman Mark Hansen, on behalf of Majority Leader Skelos:
Discussions on ethics reform are ongoing with the Governor and the Assembly. Senator Skelos is in favor of increased disclosure and transparency and we expect that an agreement will be reached.