Frustrated with his failure to reach a deal with state legislators on campaign finance reform, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last month the formation of a special commission to investigate public corruption and recommend changes in the state’s campaign finance and lobbying laws.  The 25-member Commission, each of whom has been deputized by the State Attorney General, includes 16 current or former prosecutors.

While the New York governor has broad powers to investigate state agencies, this probe is expected to reach well beyond the inner workings of government.  Governor Cuomo has announced that the Commission’s investigation will focus on government corruption and misconduct, contribution limits and third party expenditures, compliance of outside organizations and persons with existing lobbying laws, and the adequacy and enforcement of the State’s election laws.   

Unlike some blue-ribbon commissions, this is no toothless tiger.  The panel can issue subpoenas, compel testimony, and refer matters to prosecutors and police.  The Commission has already sent a letter warning two state agencies – the New York State Board of Elections, which oversees state election laws, and the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is responsible for lobbying and ethics laws – not to destroy their records.

The Commission’s first public hearings are set for mid-September.