ALBANY -- Following a spate of corruption scandals, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched a special commission Tuesday to investigate potential violations of New York's election laws.
Cuomo teamed up with Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to form the commission, a move that makes it more powerful than it otherwise would be because of Schneiderman's prosecutorial powers. Cuomo called the commission a "powerful step" to address a recent string of indictments and convictions involving lawmakers.
The panel is to come up with a preliminary report by the end of 2013 and a final report at the end of 2014, bookending the upcoming statewide election campaigns.
Cuomo said the panel was needed to restore public confidence in state government after a wave of scandals that engulfed state politics in April and May.
"Go to any person on the street and say, 'Do you think there's a question with corruption in the legislature?' " the governor said at a State Capitol news conference. "The answer is yes."
Schneiderman, a Democrat like Cuomo, said the panel not only would look for wrongdoing but also would make suggestions about "things that are legal but perhaps should not be legal." He added that New York's campaign-finance laws were "something of a national embarrassment."
Schneiderman said he would deputize each of the 25 members of the commission, which has the power to issue subpoenas and examine witnesses under oath.
Cuomo created the panel after the State Legislature rejected a plan he offered that would have given the governor power to appoint a counsel specifically to investigate election-law violations. Cuomo had threatened to convene the special panel, using the state's Moreland Act, if lawmakers didn't pass any anti-corruption measures in the 2013 legislative session.
The Moreland Act grants a governor authority to investigate any state agency -- in this case, the state Board of Elections.
A day before Cuomo's announcement, Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) warned that the panel shouldn't engage in a "witch hunt" against legislators and noted that Cuomo has raised about $30 million for his campaign. On Tuesday, a Skelos spokesman declined to comment.
"This is not about a witch hunt," Cuomo said at the news conference. "It is clear there are cases that need to be policed."
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said the chamber looked forward to working with the panel. "Campaign finance reform has always been one of the Assembly majority's top priorities and we have passed it many times over the past three decades, including this year," aide Michael Whyland said in an email.
Cuomo repeated his announcement at Hofstra University Tuesday, saying the scandals undermine state government's ability to make progress. "The more you trust government, the more capacity government has," he said.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a commission co-chair, said the commission would look to strengthen laws on campaign finance. "A few bad apples, a couple of bad laws and a bunch of loose rules in Albany can threaten the progress and undermine the confidence that people deserve to have in their government," she said.
With James T. Madore ___
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