Federal investigators and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's political foes reportedly want to get to the bottom of how and why the governor's office interfered with the work of a short-lived corruption commission -- a commission that Cuomo himself created.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that a top Cuomo aide, Larry Schwartz, pressured commissioners to stop subpoenas to a media-buying firm Cuomo used and to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members financially supported the governor's campaign. The newspaper also reported that the commission was urged to steer clear of the Committee to Save New York, a lobbying group of CEOs and business groups that amassed some $17 million in donations from unidentified individuals who supported the governor early in his term with TV ads.
Cuomo's office told the newspaper that it would be "a pure conflict of interest" for a commission appointed by the governor to investigate the governor. His spokesmen declined requests to comment further Wednesday.
The report came as Cuomo mounts a re-election campaign, one in which he has had big leads in most polls. He has also been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
The governor appointed the investigative commission under New York's anti-corruption Moreland Act a year ago, in part to examine "compliance with and the effectiveness of campaign finance laws," according to his executive order.
Cuomo said that the commission would be "totally independent," remarking last year, "Anything they want to look at, they can look at -- me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman."
The commissioners, many of them county district attorneys, used subpoena powers from the attorney general to gather information from state legislators, their campaign committees and law firms that employ them.
Cuomo effectively shut it down in April, after the Legislature passed laws intended to toughen bribery prosecutions and to establish a new campaign finance policing office. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan took the remaining files, calling the closure premature but saying federal prosecutors would aggressively complete its "important and unfinished" work.
In addition to finishing the committee's work, the Times reports that federal investigators are investigating the roles that Cuomo and his aides played in the panel's shutdown.
"Interfering with the Moreland Commission's investigations, that's obstruction of justice, that's a criminal act," state Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox told Talk 1300 Radio on Wednesday. He acknowledged Cuomo's direct authority over the commission under the Moreland Act, but said that didn't extend to another provision under which Attorney General Eric Schneiderman deputized members and gave them subpoena power.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recommended several members, deputized commissioners and provided some staff support. His office declined to comment.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, the top elected official in suburban Westchester County, said it was both obstruction and "calculated public dishonesty" by Cuomo and subordinates. "We applaud the United States attorney for his work to levy justice on Moreland's targets, and on those who interfered with the commission to protect Mr. Cuomo and his political allies. We urge the greatest expediency possible in these deliberations," he said.
Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins called for an immediate independent investigation of Cuomo and his campaign war chest with more than $35 million, calling him the kingpin of New York's "pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks."
Zephyr Teachout, a professor who filed petitions to oppose Cuomo in a Democratic primary, said he should resign if he directed or even knew that Schwartz was interfering with the commission.