Friday, October 25, 2013

Update On Cuomo Corruption Investigation’s Nonissuance of Subpoenas- More Subpoenas Are going Out, Just Not To REBNY

Earlier this month, October 14th, I wrote here in Noticing New York:
sometimes what is most important for you to know about government is not what’s being done, but what is not being done
I was writing about reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was restraining the 25-member Moreland Commission he had created to investigate corruption and misconduct of Albany public officials from issuing subpoenas to investigate exactly what the commission was created to investigate.  See: Monday, October 14, 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo Quashes Moreland Commission’s REBNY Subpoena and Other Follow-The-Money Subpoenas Hitting Too Close To Home.

Well, I am going to say it again: There is an update to the situation I reported on back then, but it is still true that sometimes what is most important for you to know about government is not what’s being done, but what is not being done.

At almost the exact same time I put up my Noticing New York analysis of the situation the New York Times ran a Michael Powell column similarly assessing the situation.  See: Gotham-Governor’s Crusade Against Corruption Comes With Too Many Asterisks, October 14, 2013.

Mr Powell observed how the representations that the commission would be the “the best, the grandest ever” and that “Anti-corruption, campaign finance, transparency and courage would be its watch words” came with too many undermining asterisk exceptions when tested against the reality being delivered.  Powell noted, as had Noticing New York, the Governor’s interference with the issuance of the following subpoenas:
    •    “the Real Estate Board of New York, which helped lobby for multimillion-dollar special tax abatements” apparently, “a rude step too far”

    •    “the state Democratic Party committee, which represents the politicians who control two and a half of the three wings of New York government.”  Mr. Powell observed that, by contrast, the investigation “will scrutinize accounts belonging to the Senate Republican campaign committee and Independence Party.”
In addition, Powell (not Noticing New York) noted the absence of a subpoena for:
    •     “the governor’s Committee to Save New York, the fund-raising vehicle by which the state’s larger corporate, real estate and gambling barons raised $17 million to express their adoration and support for Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to cut taxes and promote casino gambling. Purely by chance, this committee shut down its operations less than two months ago, which means there is no longer an organization to subpoena. `We felt our mission was accomplished,’ the committee’s director said.”
Noticing New York (but not Powell) noted the absence of a subpoenas for the:
    •    Ethics Commission and the Legislative Ethics Commission- (This subpoena employed the smart strategy of looking for prior complaints against legislators as pointers to what needs to be looked into).
A lot of good investigative reporting work pursuing the trail of the quashed subpoenas has been done by Ken Lovett, Albany bureau chief for The Daily News, a fact alluded to in Powell’s column.  The last Noticing New York article on this subject included a very good interview of Mr. Lovett by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.  Even Mother Jones jumped onto reporting bandwagon.  See: Andrew Cuomo's Much-Touted Corruption Watchdog Is Beginning to Look Like a Joke, by Andy Kroll, Oct. 8, 2013.

In addition, (previously overlooked here) the New York Times editorial board weighed in the day before the excoriating Powell column: Editorial- Will New York’s Political Watchdog Pass the Test? By The Editorial Board, October 13, 2013.

All this reporting and focus may have gotten a reaction from the Governor.  The day after the Noticing New York and Powell pieces ran the Commission reconsidered and decided to move forward in issuing the subpoena for the State Democratic Party that Cuomo was previously reported to have suppressed, together with “subpoenas to some businesses that employ legislators.”   (See: Panel to Investigate State Democratic Party, by Thomas Kaplan, October 15, 2013.)

According to the Daily News:
The actions by the commission took place just hours after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman--who deputized the 25 members of the commission--told public radio that the panel should not be interfered with when asked about the Cuomo reports.

"To succeed, the commission has to be independent and has to follow the money wherever it goes," Schneiderman said.
(See:EXCLUSIVE: Anti-Corruption Commission Sending Subpoenas To Gov. Cuomo-Tied Entities- Gov. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission has reversed itself and will now send subpoenas to the state Democratic party and other entities tied to the governor, the Daily News has learned, by Ken Lovett, October 15, 2013.)

All of this is well enough, but as I began by saying, what is likely most important to look at is what is not happening, and that is the subpoena to REBNY, the Real Estate Board of New York.    Said the New York Times in its October 13th editorial:
What’s distressing about this news is that the commissioners got off to a good start. They were investigating developers of high-end apartments to find out how lucrative tax breaks were mysteriously slipped into budget bills. Then, suddenly, the commission stalled.
The Times went on to worry that the commission’s Cuomo-induced omissions would:
destroy the confidence of an already wary public that anything meaningful can be done to curb the way money corrupts politics in Albany.  
The previous, more in depth, Noticing New York article noted speculations about where a REBNY subpoena would lead: very important places, including possibly to Assembly Speaker Sheldon and maybe Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, among others.  The multi-million dollar tax exemptions that were granted are a massive money trail.

The latest?  As of the beginning of this week Cuomo was dressing himself up as a hero with respect to the subpoenas the commission has issued, predicting they would be fought by an antagonized legislature.  See: Gov. Cuomo Expects Challenges To Anti-Corruption Commission Subpoenas, by Ken Lovett, October 21, 2013.

So, with the latest news the commission is investigating and subpoenaing the State Democratic Party, the Senate Republican campaign committee and the Independence Party, but still not REBNY.  By taking our cues from what is not being done, does that mean that REBNY, the Real Estate Board of New York, as the last untouchable, is more powerful than the Democratic, Republican and Independence parties?  Surprise, surprise!  There are, after all, those who would have always maintained that the way things are run in New York REBNY must be the real power in charge.

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