August 5, 2014

I'm About Moreland'd Out

Our supremely quotable District Attorney-for-Life William Fitzpatrick, the guy who brought us the classic she's drooling normally line from a murder trial a few years back, gets the credit for the title of today's post. He made that comment recently in an interview with Teri Weaver who writes for Syracuse.com and the Post-Standard.  Her interview with Fitz came after a lengthy NY Times investigation into the independence, or lack thereof, of the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission.

The Moreland Commission was a group of 25 elected officials and otherwise willing public servants, and it included not only Fitz, who was one of the three co-chairs, but also Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and local businessman J. Patrick Barrett. Their work, according to the press release announcing the Commission, was to investigate actual or perceived corruption, investigate existing laws so they could be improved, generate transparency and accountability, strengthen our democracy, root out bad guys, and obey the Girl Scout Laws.  (OK, sorry, I added that last part).

Notably, according to Milton L. Williams Jr. (one of Fitz's co-chairs),
The work of this historic commission will not be done until we have restored the public trust.
Rather than restoring the public trust, the Commission proved that we are as incapable of getting ethics reform as we are of establishing sane election districts, eliminating unfunded mandates, achieving real tax reform, finding a fair way to fund education, reasonably managing the safety net or handling any of the other myriad roles of state government. Had that ever been in question, it should be no longer.

Maybe Preet Bharara, the US Attorney who's had some success in rooting out bad guys, will have more luck since he's less invested in the process than any of the Commission members or their masters, Cuomo and Schneiderman. Bharara's office is currently collecting everyone's files and has put the whole mess of them on warning that he's suspicious of all the 'no interference' comments that are all the rage since the Times stories came out.

While our reform efforts are lacking, the quote machine are is in fine fettle. For example, there's a timeline of Cuomo's comments on the commission in this past Sunday's paper. Among them are these quotes on the independence (or lack thereof) of the commission:
It's an independent commission that is free to investigate whatever they believe needs to be investigated on the merits. (July 1, 2013, on the Moreland Commission)
First, your fundamental assertion is that the Moreland Commission was independent. It wasn't. No Moreland Commission can be independent from the governor's office. (July 23, 2014, in response to the NY Times articles)
It was 100 percent independent...(July 28, 2014 in a press conference in Buffalo)  
And then there's this, one of Fitzpatrick's gems:
I am not wasting 15 months of my quickly shortening life to write some silly report that Lewis and Clark couldn't find in five years! ~ in an email to one of his co-chairs reiterating the independence of the Moreland Commission in the face of interference from Cuomo's aides, according to the New York Times. 
Of course, in an his 'no interference' comment, he offered this:
The governor in forming the commission announced it would be an independent body. It was. The notion that 10 elected DAs along with a County Executive, a law school Dean, a renowned judge, professors, a businessman and private attorneys devoted to good government would NOT be independent is ridiculous.
So which Cuomo do we believe?  Which Fitzpatrick do we believe?

As we watch to see where this all ends up,  Cuomo has hired a prominent attorney, who will be paid out of campaign funds, naturally - either to keep taxpayers from having to pay the costs of his legal bills, or to hide information, including the amount of the retainer.

I suppose that's a more legitimate use of campaign contributions than paying for tanning salon services, which was one of the things uncovered by the Moreland Commission.  Or steak dinners and golf, two of Fitzpatrick's preferred campaign fund expenditures.

We probably still need ethics reform in Albany, or, like folks say regarding gun control, we can simply enforce the laws on the books and catch the creeps we can.

What we need more, though, is an end to the kind of nonsense that happened here:

  • a governor threatening the legislature with an investigative commission if they don't pass some the reforms the governor wants;
  • appointment of an independently non-independent commission to investigate everything except for the part of 'everything' that includes the governor;
  • the legislature passing watered down reforms so the governor would shut down the investigation;
  • and finally the shut-down commission crowing about their independence and the reforms that came about because of their work. 

I, too, am about Moreland'd out.