The Moreland Game: Sins of the Gov's Commission
So New York has a problem with politicians skimming tax dollars, and other politicians have the solution: Just give us the dough up front, please, and call it reform. Brilliant. Thank you, Gov. Cuomo. Thank you, Moreland Act Commission.
The Moreland Game: the Governor's Commission Comes Up Short
New York Post, December 4, 2013
So New York has a problem with politicians skimming tax dollars, and other politicians have the solution: Just give us the dough up front, please, and call it reform.
Thank you, Gov. Cuomo. Thank you, Moreland Act Commission.
Now picture poor Pedro Espada, a former state senator and one of the most accomplished skimmers of his era, sitting there in his federal prison cell and cursing his bad timing: If only he’d waited for such “reform.”
Or Willie Rapfogel, former executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, husband of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s closest aide — and apparently so adept at skimming that the feds say they found upward of $400,000 in council cash in his bedroom closet. (Mrs. Rapfogel says she had no idea. None. Honest.)
Both men came to grief because of their intimate ties to politically wired, heavily tax-subsidized, nonprofits: Espada is doing time for ripping off the largely Medicaid-funded Soundview Health Center, which he founded in The Bronx; Rapfogel, tight as a tick with Silver in his own right, has been charged with looting millions from the Met Council, also a megabuck destination for public money.
Nonprofit abuses have been central to many of the scandals embarrassing state and local government in New York in recent years, and the feds have been collecting office-holding miscreants like stray cats — eight since 2010, including Espada. Plus Rapfogel — who, while not an elected official, was (and probably still is) close enough to Silver that he might just as well have been.
Cuomo, always quick to spin political gold from policy straw, wasn’t going to miss this opportunity: In July, he very publicly appointed a special investigative panel, a so-called Moreland Act Commission, and handed it an expansive mission: “Root out corruption in politics and government,” he ordered.
Alas, corruption in politics and government had a long head start — not for nothing did Boss Tweed die in prison — so it’s no surprise that the governor’s commission seems not to have found any.
Or, if it did, there’s no hint of it in the commission’s preliminary report, made public Monday. Invective, yes. Innuendo, for sure. Specifics, nada.
Nor is there a recommendation to do anything significant about nonprofit skimming — notwithstanding that’s essentially what got the corruption ball rolling in the first place.
So, despite being packed with, um, fierce district attorneys like Nassau County’s Kathleen Rice, and having been armed with, ah, legal superpowers by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the panel delivered — bupkis.
Unless handing politicians public money to run for office counts.
For Cuomo’s commission laid out in great detail its vision of what campaign-finance reform should look like — astonishingly, it almost exactly parallels the program Cuomo tried so hard to extract from the Legislature this year. Unsuccessfully.
It’s a complicated package, but here’s the CliffsNotes version: It’s just like New York City’s own public-finance scheme, which has cost tens of millions over the years — fostering its own brand of corruption along the way, while doing precious little to improve the quality of public life in the city.
Even a cursory look at the ideological cutthroats and what’s-in-it-for-me self-enrichers who will assume control of City Hall on Jan. 1 is proof enough of that.
But what’s good enough for Gotham seems to be even better for Albany, at least as far as Cuomo is concerned.
The governor has cared much less for policy outcomes than he has for his poll numbers since he took office almost three years ago — so it’s completely unsurprising that an allegedly independent investigative panel he appointed should then issue findings that track his political objectives tittle and jot.
Indeed, the astonishment would be if it didn’t. Andrew Cuomo is not big on dissent.
Meanwhile, the governor who says money must be gotten out of politics is running for re-election with $30 million in the bank — and spent Tuesday evening at a Madison Square Garden birthday fund-raising bash, where Billy Joel entertained and tables of 10 went for $50,000 a pop.
His lips say reform.
His Moreland Act Commission says, well, whatever the hell Cuomo tells it to say.
And the money speaks for itself.
Thus was it ever so.