Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission on public corruption is holding its second in a series of public hearings Tuesday evening. It comes amid heightened tensions between the governor and the legislature over the disclosure of lawmaker’s client lists.
The Moreland Commission asked members of the legislature who are lawyers to disclose more details about the clients they serve in their private practices. The commission requested the lists from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein as well as dozens of other state lawmakers who are lawyers. The commission wants to know who the legislators represented in public civil or criminal cases, and how much they were paid.
For years, unproven allegations have swirled about potential conflicts of interest between legislators who craft the laws and vote on the state budget, and the clients that they represent.
Lawmakers, however, have refused to hand over the client lists. Governor Cuomo, who says it’s up to the Moreland Commission to decide how best to respond, says he does think that more disclosure of legislator’s outside interests is needed.
“This effort is all about restoring the public trust and people’s faith in government, and I think the more information, the better,” Cuomo said. “Especially when there are real questions that people have been asking.”
The Assembly and Senate majority parties hired top attorneys to represent them. In their response to the commission, attorney Marc Kasowitz, who represents Assembly Democrats, and former US Attorney Michael Garcia, who represents Senate Republicans, said legislators are not required by law to comply with the Moreland Commission’s request. They also say that under the state constitution’s separation of powers doctrine, the commission, created by Cuomo, does not have the right to probe the legislature.
The Moreland Commission reacted angrily, calling the legislature’s position “legally indefensible, repugnant and disrespectful of the public’s right to know.” A spokeswoman threatened that the commission will pursue a “number of avenues” to obtain the information.
Cuomo says he believes the Moreland Commission is within its rights to subpoena the legislature for the client lists.
“I think legally the Moreland’s subpoena power will be upheld,” the governor predicted.
The majority of state lawmakers have not commented publicly about the dispute. One Freshman Senator, however, has spoken out. Democrat Terry Gipson from the Hudson Valley, says he thinks legislators should disclose the names of their clients, and he says he agrees with the Moreland Commission’s request.
“I support what they are doing,” Gipson said. “I think it is necessary so that we can root out the remaining corruption that may exist in Albany.”
Gipson does not have the same worries as some of his legislative colleagues. The Senator decided that when he took office he’d shutter his small business and work at his new job full time.
“They deserve to have and need our full and undivided attention,” Gipson said of his constituents. “If we are serving other clients on the side, I see that as a potential distraction.”
The position of Senator and Assembly member is considered to be a part time job, with a base salary of $79, 500 a year.
Senator Gipson says while he’s made the choice to not earn any outside income, he’s not judging the actions of other lawmakers, and does not think the state should change to a full time legislature. He says others will have to make their own choices about their priorities.