New York’s anti-corruption commission created by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Tuesday it has broadened its investigation to powerful Democrats after it was accused of focusing on Republicans and their allies.
The commission’s co-chairmen also confirmed they would subpoena information if legislators refused their request to provide data on outside income including lists of private law clients.
The commissioners acknowledged they are investigating the little regulated “housekeeping accounts” of political parties and campaign committees. That probe was first reported last month by The Associated Press.
Housekeeping accounts are loosely regulated accounts of political organizations that can accept large amounts of contributions with few restrictions on how the money is spent. The accounts aren’t subject to the same restrictions as individual politician’s campaign contributions and spending.
The commission is investigating the housekeeping accounts of the state Republican, Democratic, Independence and Conservative parties. It is also probing the accounts of the Democratic and Republican campaigns in the Senate and Assembly.
The commission also said it will compel lawmakers to provide information they had refused to turn over during a monthlong standoff but stopped short of saying they would subpoena legislators.
The commission’s chairmen promised to take aggressive, if unspecified, action. Last month, legislative majority leaders refused to comply with requests for details about how some of the part-time lawmakers made six-figure salaries outside their elected jobs and lists of private law firm clients.
“The commission voted today to aggressively move forward in compelling production of information into specific matters that the commission is investigating,” stated co-chairmen William Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Rice and Milton Williams Jr.
The panel plans to issue subpoenas, hold public hearings and issue a report Dec. 1, they said. They didn’t say, however, whether lawmakers will be subpoenaed for the information on outside income. The commission doesn’t identify any people or documents which would be targets of subpoenas.
The commission sent letters to lawmakers in August asking them to disclose data for outside employment that paid more than $20,000 last year. Commission members also sought a description of what work the lawmaker performed, how their pay was determined and the names of legal clients.
Among the legislators with outside income from law practices are Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, who made as $250,000 last year, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who made up to $450,000, according to ethics disclosure records filed in July.
A spokesman for Silver declined to comment Tuesday. Spokesmen for Skelos and Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that shares the Senate majority with Republicans, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sen. Andrew Stewart-Cousins who leads the traditional Democratic conference in the Senate, however, called requests for client lists “a reasonable request which should be answered.”
Page 2 of 2 - Lawmakers have argued that disclosure would violate attorney-client protections. The majority conferences have hired attorneys to defend their stance in court.
However, the New York State Bar Association has called for disclosure of most clients of lawmakers since 2011. The association notes such relationships are already often part of public court records, just not collected in a place readily seen by the public and ethics enforcers.
Twenty other states require lawmakers to regularly divulge at least some of their clients from business, law and consulting firms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are: Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.