The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a rising Democratic star and potential presidential candidate, hamstrung an ethics inquiry when it examined the governor's political allies, an exclusive report by The New York Times revealed on Wednesday.
Senior aides to the governor used their oversight of the ethics commission to derail investigations and pressure investigators whenever they examined people politically close to the governor or issues that might reflect poorly on him, the Times found, before the investigation was abruptly disbanded.
The ethics committee was established with great fanfare by the governor himself last summer as a way to end the state's political corruption once and for all. But behind closed doors, the commissioners were impaired by the governor's office, which eventually cut their work short despite finding a number of concerning offenses.
The shutdown of the commission is now being examined by federal investigators led by U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara, the same prosecutor investigating potential abuses of power by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office with the Port Authority.
The news comes just as the governor runs for re-election in November, against Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. Thanks to strong approval ratings, Cuomo is currently ahead by 37 points, according to a Siena poll from earlier this week.
The governor’s office defended itself in a 13-page response, arguing that they oversaw the commission to prevent a conflict of interest. But according to the Times, the commission was not looking into the governor’s office when their investigations were curbed, but in fact looking into groups that were politically close to the governor.
“A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive,” the governor’s office statement said. “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.”
The ethics committee was created to root out the corruption that has marred Albany for years, but the commissioners grew paranoid and disillusioned over time. One commissioner said they thought their communications were being monitored by the governor's aides.
“The thing that bothered me the most is we were created with all this fanfare and the governor was going to clean up Albany,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State and a special adviser to the commission. “And it became purely a vehicle for the governor to get legislation. Another notch for his re-election campaign. That was it.”