Democrats join Republicans in challenging Moreland Commission - The Buffalo News
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Democrats join Republicans in challenging Moreland Commission

ALBANY – Legislators, en masse, fought back Friday against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission by asking federal courts to quash subpoenas issued by the panel for names and other activities of their private law firm businesses.

While Senate Republicans in the past had been alone in going the legal route, they were joined Friday by Assembly Democrats, several Senate Democrats and law firms that employ legislators. Lawmakers say the Cuomo panel is on a fishing expedition that violates separation of powers between the two branches.

The list of lawmakers whose law firms were submitting motions to quash the subpoenas were still coming in Friday night.

Sen. Michael Razenhofer, an Erie County Republican who is a partner in a firm, did not return calls for comment.

Sources said that Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, has volunteered the names of clients in his solo practice firm but wants a guarantee from Cuomo’s Moreland Commission that he will not be disbarred for any attorney/client violations; Grisanti did not return calls for comment.

In a letter to fellow Republicans, Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said the Moreland Commission was formed to investigate the state elections board and weaknesses in existing campaign finance laws. Instead, the panel has subpoenaed the employers of all lawmakers who make more than $20,000 a year in outside income and he noted statements by Cuomo and others that the panel was created because lawmakers failed to go along with a Cuomo campaign finance plan, which included taxpayer-funded campaigns.

“These actions amount to an attempt to coerce or threaten the Legislature and upset the separation of powers that exists between the executive and legislative branches, and cannot be accepted,’’ Skelos wrote.

In his own letter that read much like Skelos’ letter, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said it is “improper and illegal’’ for the governor to try to investigate the Legislature “merely because the [Moreland] commissioners would like to compel passage of proposed legislation.”

The issue is poised, unless resolved soon, to severely disrupt the relations between Cuomo and lawmakers after three years of the Legislature giving the governor much of what he proposed in the way of major policy items.

In response, the Moreland Commission said it has full legal rights to pursue the probe of lawmakers’ outside incomes. “It should be noted that a significant number of employers of both Assembly members and senators who were asked for information are cooperating. We had hoped everyone would work together but they did not. We are confident we will prevail in court,’’ the panel said.

Karl Sleight, the former executive director of the state ethics commission and now a lawyer with the Harris Beach law firm, lashed out at the Moreland Commission’s subpoenas as he submitted a motion to quash papers on behalf of his firm, which employs Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Finger Lakes Republican. “It is ironic that a commission charged with purporting to examine ethics in government blatantly disregards the sacrosanct relationship of clients and their attorneys. Allowed to continue unfettered, this far-a-field inquiry would adversely impact every individual and business in New York,’’ he said.


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