ALBANY, N.Y. - New York's latest anti-corruption commission pressed for
details of state legislators' outside income and law clients just days after
the Legislature refused to comply with its request for the information.
On Friday, the commission called the Legislature's decision "ethically repugnant."
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption held its second public hearing on Tuesday evening. It focused on campaign contributions, the outside income of part-time legislators that could pose conflicts of interest, and the few limits on contributions to political parties' so-called "housekeeping" accounts.
Lawmakers have questioned the authority of the commission created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate the Legislature, citing the constitutional separation of powers doctrine that keeps one branch from dominating another.
JCOPE or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics also met on Tuesday.
"JCOPE kind of oversees ethics. This Moreland commission is responsible for getting to the culture of corruption and put forward some recommendations to the governor and the legislature to try to change what may not be illegal at the moment," said Barbara Bartoletti with the League of Women Voters.
JCOPE is a permanent sitting ethics committee, which is responsible for investigating possible violations -- most of its work takes place in private. The Moreland Commission has been assembled to investigate public corruption, holding public hearings and recommending changes with the goal of putting a stop to corruption.
"We're hopeful that with some of the findings of this commission the public will literally get outraged enough to say to their elected officials that can't be right and you need to change the laws in this state," said Bartoletti.
A rally was held outside the public hearing on Tuesday, beginning at 5:15 p.m. to call on the commission to include a system of publicly financed elections in their list of recommendations, scheduled to be delivered in their initial report of findings in early December.
"Fair elections is where small donors are matched by public funds so people have enough funds to win without feeling like they have to bid during policy making," said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of NY.
Scharff represents just one of the advocacy organizations that testified Tuesday. One after another, speakers laid out to the commission what they believe needs to be changed.
"We think the money coming from big donors is the heart of the corruption," said Joan Mandle, with Democracy Matters. "We want to open the system up and not just allow rich people to run."
Others suggested setting up an independent regulatory agency to oversee a campaign finance committee. But Albany County DA and commission member David Soares wondered who would sit on it and if members would be appointed by the governor or lawmakers?
"It seems like if we were to make that recommendation I worry we would be rigy back where we are," said Soares.
Corruption in New York government has drawn renewed attention after a string of criminal cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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