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Senate, Cuomo intensify battle over Moreland panel

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– With lawmakers pushing back against his Moreland Commission, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finding himself in a near daily fight with the Legislature, especially the coalition that controls the state Senate that had been among his most reliable allies in Albany.

Things worsened Wednesday on two fronts: Senate Republicans went to court to block subpoenas issued by Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission and legislation was introduced seeking to make Moreland Commission’s independent from the governor.

Senate Republicans filed papers in a state court in Manhattan seeking to quash the subpoenas issued by the Moreland Commission. The commission has sought an array of information about the central Senate Republican campaign committee and its activities during the 2012 elections. Separately, it also wants detailed information about the outside incomes of state lawmakers.

The Senate Republicans hired Washington lawyer Michael Chertoff to handle the case against the Moreland Commission; he was the secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush.

In a written statement, Chertoff said the commission is engaged in a “partisan witch hunt’’ that violates free speech and political association.

In response, the Moreland Commission said state law grants it the power to conduct the investigation. “We had hoped the Senate Republicans would willingly cooperate and they did not. We will prevail in court,’’ the commission said.

Meanwhile, Staten Island senators Andrew Lanza, a Republican, and Diane Savino, a Democrat who is part of a breakaway group of Democrats who formed a coalition with the GOP to run the Senate, sponsored legislation aimed at reducing the governor’s role in Moreland panels and shedding more transparency on its work.

“The conduct of this commission and the possible involvement of the executive branch in the decisions of the commission has raised concerns about the accountability and effectiveness of this commission’s objective,’’ a legislative memo by Lanza and Savino states. “Potential or actual conflicts of interest divert from the true mission of any Moreland Commission.’’

The legislation's provisions would preserve all documents created by Moreland commissions in the state archives and set new membership rules for members of the panel intended to reduce the influence of the executive branch.

While Cuomo as recently as last week at a public event talked of how well his administration has worked with lawmakers, the nice talk from surrogates is clearly over.

Rodney Capel, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls, said that in the time it took Lanza to draft a press release he could have disclosed his outside income. “What exactly is he hiding and why is he deploying every distraction tactic available to do it. Don’t his constituents have a right to know who he works for?” Capel said.

"And to his co-sponsor Diane Savino -- who has acted as a shield for Republicans working to block votes on public campaign financing and women's equality -- I have two words: register Republican,’’ he added.

Savino called it "extremely disappointing to see a member of my own party respond to calls for greater transparency in government with such vitriol and hostility.'' She noted how it was her independent Democratic conference that helped Cuomo get some of his major policy proposals approved this year.

"Maybe if Mr. Capel and his allies were less worried about protecting their (campaign) housekeeping accounts -- and were more focused on lining up every Democratic vote in the Senate -- we could finally move forward on some of those other more polarizing issues. Until then, he can spare me the bull of find himself another six-figure, no-show job,'' she said this evening.


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