By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said a Moreland Commission panel of district attorneys from across the state will have "broad and sweeping" power to investigate corruption in state government.
The 25-member panel unveiled Tuesday will have more extensive jurisdiction than Cuomo had initially indicated. Cuomo empowered Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to deputize the panelists as state prosecutors to go after fraud and misdeeds.
"You have a mechanism in place that is going to assure that this government is a government of integrity and a government that you can trust," Cuomo said at a news conference at the Capitol.
The 25-member commission is being chaired by the district attorneys of Onondaga and Nassau counties. It also includes the district attorneys from Rockland and Broome counties.
Cuomo is touring the state after the announcement, stopping in Binghamton and Nassau County later Tuesday. The Nassau County stop will be in Hempstead-the home turf of Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who Monday was critical of Cuomo's panel.
Cuomo said he was unable to reach an agreement with the Legislature to reform the state's campaign-finance laws, such as public financing of campaigns, after a string of corruption cases at the Capitol. As a result, he turned to the nearly century-old law that lets the governor enact his own investigative body to root out corruption in government.
Some campaign-reform groups praised the new panel.
"The governor has appointed an impressive bi-partisan commission that can restore the public's trust in government by focusing its efforts on systemic reform," said the Fair Elections for New York Campaign. "New Yorkers want and deserve a campaign finance system that makes lawmakers accountable to voters, not donors."
Cuomo is the state's former attorney general. When he held the post from 2007 through 2010, he said his investigative powers were limited because the office is unable to seek criminal prosecution against corrupt politicians.
Schneiderman, who joined Cuomo at the event, said Cuomo has given his office and the panel the broad authority to seek criminal corruption cases in the Legislature, but also in state agencies and non-profit groups that lobby the state.
The panel will provide a preliminary report by year's end on recommendations to change state law. A final report will be released in 2014.
"There is jurisdiction to look at any aspect of the state government," Schneiderman said. "It is not specifically directed at the state Legislature, by any means. The commission is empowered to investigate any and every aspect of the state government."
Skelos has balked at the panel, saying Monday that it could lead to a "witch hunt" against lawmakers.
Cuomo disputed Skelos' claim, saying that legislators should welcome the review. He said lawmakers are currently painted with a broad brush by the public as all being corrupt.
"Everybody is bad, because they don't have confidence in the system," Cuomo said. "And I think this could actually vindicate the good elected officials who are the overwhelming number. "