Issues

Issues

Clean up Albany

Clean up Albany

Clean up Albany

New York’s corruption problem is deep, and it disproportionately hurts low and middle-income New Yorkers. Big donors get big contracts, as wages remain stagnant. Politically connected hedge funds block policies that would help our schools and kids. Some of the corruption is legal, but a lot of it is illegal. We have a rolling scandal of corruption and sexual misconduct, and it is clear that Albany cannot police itself.

As Attorney General I will:

  • Investigate corruption among lawmakers and lobbyists. I will use the powers of the Attorney General’s Office to reopen the Moreland Commission, under the existing Executive Order that created it.
  • Lead the fight for #TimesUp in NY government
  • Beef up the public corruption and criminal units of the AG’s office

I do not take corporate PAC money or LLC money, and I have called on my opponents to pledge the same.

New York’s top ethics enforcement agency slammed as “toothless lapdog” for exonerating ex-Cuomo aide

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Investigate Corruption in Government

The Attorney General is the constitutional officer who can appear in all matters in which the people of the state are interested; the office is not limited by the particular grant of authority from the Governor. Given the near constant drum beat of public corruption in state government, New Yorkers have an ongoing interest in whether or not the Governor, his closest associates, or other state officials haven broken state laws. There are numerous avenues for investigation including misuse of state resources, bid rigging, and interference with an independent investigation, among others.

New York State must have, and does have, authority and capacity to investigate corruption in New York State. The state cannot be dependent on the federal government to protect New Yorkers from corruption in our state government.

Executive Order 106 aka the Moreland Commission

On July 2nd, 2013 the Governor issued Executive Order 106 to create a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption.1 The Governor referred the issue of public integrity to the Attorney General for an independent investigation.

The state law under which he “referred” the commission requires an initial gubernatorial approval (which was given), and ongoing reporting to the Governor, but places investigative powers under the Attorney General and deputized commissioners. Although, Mr. Cuomo has argued that the commission was never independent,2 in several news reports about the commission, Mr. Cuomo himself re­affirmed its independence and stated that the co­chairs were responsible for making all decisions.3 Under the general principles of government, a Governor may not interfere with an independent investigation by the Attorney General once it has begun. As some legal experts have publicly noted, interference with deputized Attorneys General use of subpoenas may be illegal.

Although the Governor publicly announced to the press that he has “disbanded” the Moreland Commission,4 there is no executive order countermanding Executive Order 106. Therefore the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption has not been disbanded. Unless an executive order is subject to mandatory renewal, the order continues in force until suspended.

The absence of a countermanding executive order leaves the original Executive Order legally alive. The Attorney General, has the legal power and obligation to proceed with the investigation into corruption in New York, including the Governor’s offices’ own interference with anti­corruption investigations.

Expand the Public Integrity Bureau, Demand a Broad Civil and Criminal Referral

The existing Public Integrity Bureau needs to be expanded with more staff and resources. The Attorney General must also demand a broad civil and criminal referral from the Governor for all public corruption/integrity investigations. Broader investigations would include everything from campaign finance issues to sexual harassment and abuse. The existing referral from the NYS Comptroller only covers cases involving taxpayer funds.5

Abuse of Public Trust

Under existing state law, public officials who commit crimes are charged only for those crimes—without consideration for their status as a public official. Creating a criminal charge for “Abuse of Public Trust”6 as proposed by the Office of the State Comptroller would empower local prosecutors to more aggressively pursue public corruption cases and would increase the penalties associated with convictions.

Under the proposal, crimes committed by a public official would be upgraded. For example, a Class D Felony charge of bribe receiving, committed by a public official, would become a Class C Felony and would carry a stiffer sentence.

Reforming the Bribery Statute

New York’s statute on bribery and the receiving of a bribe by a public official requires proof of a mutual agreement, whereas bribery laws not involving a public official have substantially lower burdens of proof (that the bribe-giver “intends to influence” the bribe-receiver).

Proposed legislation7 would amend the statute to reflect the statute governing bribery not involving public officials—lowering the burden of proof to ”intent to influence”, as is the statute in 48 of the 50 states. However, this must be amended in a manner that it does not apply to campaign contributions or affect campaign finance. This can be done by keeping in place the “mutual agreement” language in regards to campaign contributions. The proposal would also lower the criminal threshold for bribery in the second degree from $10,000 to $5,000. The same change must be made to the bribery-receiving charge.

Investigate Sexual Harassment & Abuse in Government and the Private Sector

Sexual Harassment in Albany

Before the #MeToo movement sexual harassment and sexual misconduct were well documented problems in Albany.8 Yet the Legislature remains plagued by a smattering of reporting options few of which result in actual accountability. The maze of protocols varies depending up whether an employee works for the Governor, the Senate, the Assembly, or a state agency. There is no uniform reporting structure, and the one relevant entity that is supposed to have oversight, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), is conflicted out of any meaningful investigation. Victims may feel frustrated and like they have little recourse.9

Even with a uniform policy, the Attorney General can play a centralizing role in investigating reports of sexual harassment and misconduct. This would require a special team of trained investigators and lawyers who understand the extensive literature on best practices, a clear timeline for all investigations, and an accountability mechanism whereby victims and the accused receive information in a timely fashion. There is obviously a need for an entity to take responsibility for investigating these serious claims, and as both an independent office and the top law enforcement agency in the state, the Attorney General is poised to do it.

Holding Companies Accountable

Under NY Executive Law 63(12)10 the Attorney General has authority to investigate and prosecute companies “doing business in New York” which persistently flout local, state, or federal anti-sexual harassment laws. The office is already pursuing many of these violations in the Weinstein Case,11 but breaking news has revealed widespread and systematic abuses at other New York based companies like CBS.12

The repeated violation by an individual or company “doing business” in New York falls under the Attorney General’s authority to issue subpoenas, investigate, and sue.

Fight Abusive Non-Disclosure Agreements

Abusive non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) strong-arm victims into settlements and protect abusers. At the victims’ request, the Attorney General can also use the powers of the office such as subpoenas, investigations, complaints, or even a settlement negotiation with a company to release victims from these agreements. The office has already successfully sued13 to release Harvey Weinstein’s victims in March. Any NDA should include specific language that complainants may still file a complaint with a state or local agency and/or testify or participate in a government investigation.

Anti-SLAPP

To protect against perpetrators’ use of expensive litigation to quiet public accusation, several states have anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation. SLAPP lawsuits are suits brought to retaliate against those who exercise their First Amendment rights. New York should adopt legislations modeled on California’s anti-SLAPP statute,14 so that victims can’t be buried under litigation designed to exhaust and ultimately censor them.

#MeToo public hearings in Albany

The Sexual Harassment Working Group—seven women who experienced or reported sexual harassment in Albany—has issued a white paper15 with recommendations to strengthen state law, and criticized legislation rushed through the budget process in April for failing to include input from relevant stakeholders. The state must hold public hearings to elevate the voice of victims, improve existing laws, and push for systemic change in government.

1 Governor Cuomo Appoints Moreland "Commission to Investigate Public Corruption"
2 Chris Bragg, Cuomo on Moreland tampering, it’s my commission, Crain’s NY (Aug 24, 2014)
3 Jon Campbell, Cuomo: Moreland Commission displayed ‘total independence,’ Gannett (July 28th, 2014)
4 Michelle Breidenbach, New York lawmakers shut down Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to investigate Albany corruption, Syracuse Post Standard (March 31st, 2014)
5 Nicholas Confessore, Accord with comptroller will help attorney general pursue corruption cases, New York Times (May 23rd, 2011)
6 Comptroller DiNapoli's Legislative Program
7 S00261: AN ACT to amend the penal law and the criminal procedure law, in relation to bribery and abuse of public trust
8 Jimmy Vielkind, Marie French, Sexual Harassment in Albany: 6 years, one thousand complaints, and more than $6.4M, Politico (February 7th, 2018)
9 Fixing Albany’s #MeToo Problem: What’s Next?
10 New York Executive Law Section 63
11 The People of the State of New York v. The Weinstein Company
12 Ronan Farrow, Les Moonves and CBS face allegations of sexual misconduct, the New Yorker, (July 27th, 2018)
13 Brian Stelter, Weinstein company lifts NDAs. Will more victims come forward? CNN.com (March 20th, 2018)
14 Code of Civil Procedure – Section 425.16
15 Fixing Albany’s #MeToo Problem: What's Next?