The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. This week’s links were contributed by Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.
New York Times Investigation Sheds Light on Moreland Commission’s Operations
According to an extensive investigation by the New York Times, the office of Governor Cuomo allegedly tried to control the operations of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, by steering its investigations away from groups that were politically connected to the governor. For example, when commission investigators sought to review political donations and communications by the Real Estate Board of New York—a trade group whose members include some of Cuomo’s biggest donors—in an effort to connect the dots on a valuable housing tax break, the governor’s secretary reportedly instructed commissioners not to subpoena the organization. Ultimately, the commission declined to do so, gaining information from a voluntary request instead. In addition, although the investigation of independent expenditure groups was part of the commission’s mandate, the governor’s staff allegedly told commissioners not to mention a pro-Cuomo organization, the Committee to Save New York—which spent more than $16 million on lobbying and elections without fully disclosing the source of its contributions—in their final report. Governor Cuomo’s office released a statement contesting the characterization of events by the Times, arguing that since the commission was created by and reported to Cuomo, he could not “interfere” with it. Federal prosecutors are investigating the governor’s decision to shut down with commission. Before it was shuttered, the Moreland Commission recommended public campaign financing and other campaign finance fixes to address Albany’s culture of corruption, but the legislative session ended without meaningful reform.
Feds Probe Campaign Expenses of NY Sen. George Maziarz
A federal investigation, led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, is continuing the Moreland Commission’s work to examine campaign expenditures made by 28 state senators, including Republican George Maziarz. According to public filings and bank records subpoenaed by the Moreland Commission, the Maziarz campaign failed to report more than $325,000 in expenditures since 2008, including more than 300 checks made out to “cash” with no indication of who ultimately received the money. In addition, sources close to the investigation say that the Maziarz campaign made significant expenditures directly to staff members and their families. The Senator’s chief of staff, Alisa Colatarci, reportedly received $91,378 through 219 payments. Bharara’s investigation became public following subpoenas issued to Colatarci and Maziarz’s former office manager, Marcus Hall, both of whom resigned last week prior to the subpoenas being issued. Colatarci’s attorney, Daniel French, issued a statement emphasizing that she is not a target of this investigation, and that she will continue to cooperate fully with prosecutors. In a statement made last week, Maziarz announced that he would not be seeking reelection this fall.
Democrats Challenge Petition Seeking Spot in Gubernatorial Primary
Represented by prominent election lawyer Martin Connor, two New York Democrats challenged the validity of Zephyr Teachout’s petition to secure a place on the Democratic gubernatorial primary this week. The objections filed in court question the petition signatures Teachout collected as well as her status as a New York resident. Under New York election law, Teachout’s petition to force a primary against incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo must include at least 15,000 signatures from registered Democrats, and she must have been a continuous resident of the state for at least the past five years leading up to the election. Although Teachout received more than three times the required number of signatures, Connor and his clients argue that there was high potential for error since signatures were collected at public rallies and street fairs by inexperienced volunteers. Regarding the residency challenge, Connor claims Teachout has maintained elements of her previous Vermont residency, including drivers licenses and an address listed on a 2012 donation to the Obama Campaign. Despite these challenges, Teachout maintains that she has more than the requisite number of signatures and that her residency in New York has been uninterrupted since she accepted a tenure-track position at Fordham University Law School in 2009.