Put it in writing, governor
Growing up from children to adults, and sometimes in growing from adults into genuinely mature individuals, we learn there’s a difference between what we can do and what we should do.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo can, within the letter of the law, designate anyone he wants under the Moreland Act to “examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state.” He doesn’t have to put a thing in writing. He can offer the bureaucratic equivalent of the hackneyed refrain, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
Which is pretty much the ad hoc, opaque way in which the governor is approaching the serious business of investigating possible wrongdoing in his own administration. There’s no executive order, no mission statement, no parameters, no contract. There’s not even a publicly stated rate of pay for his hand-picked investigator, who was assigned, from what the governor says, to look into what U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara already was looking into – which seems so far to be improper lobbying and conflicts of interest involving the Buffalo Billion and upstate nanotech economic development initiatives, connected to SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany.
In fact, it was only after probing by the Times Union’s Casey Seiler that we learned from the governor that the investigator, Bart Schwartz, a former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office, was working under the authority of the Moreland Act. That gives him the power to issue subpoenas, examine people under oath, and require the production of any books or papers he deems relevant.
For why this matters, consider Mr. Cuomo’s last exercise of the Moreland Act. The governor created a Moreland commission by executive order to look into public corruption, declared that it could investigate whomever and whatever it chose, including himself, and then shut it down, saying it had achieved its real (though unstated) goal of getting the Legislature to pass some ethics reforms. The commission had also started looking at some of his own campaign contributors; the governor then insisted it could not investigate him, since he was the one who appointed it.
If we ended up with such a mess when things were in writing, imagine the chaos we could see with nothing on paper.
Mr. Cuomo owes it to the public, and to the credibility of the institution of government, to do this properly and transparently. To make clear, in writing, what Mr. Schwartz will be paid, what his duties and power are, what limits he is under, whether he will make any formal reports of his findings and whether they’ll be public. Since it is Mr. Cuomo’s administration that’s under investigation here, the public should also be clear on whether Mr. Schwartz is working in the public’s interest or the governor’s.
Mr. Cuomo can, of course, do none of that. He can be as opaque as he wants. But he shouldn’t. And he should know that.