New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is speaking out against a recently proposed bill by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling it “a distraction” and “likely unconstitutional” in a letter sent to state legislative leaders.
Cuomo’s proposal responds to recent scandals inside his administration, including those involving his former aide Joe Percoco, with the creation of new “special inspector generals,” one for investigating state procurement procedures and two others for investigating SUNY and CUNY.
The problem? These officials, who are meant to check decisions that are largely made by the executive branch, would be appointed by the governor and serve at the governor’s pleasure, who could fire the officials if desired.
“Such a scheme violates the fundamental checks-and-balances principle that underlies our state constitution, as it does not establish the independence required of a procurement watchdog and therefore will not achieve the real accountability and reform our State desperately needs,” Schneiderman’s letter read. “It is also likely unconstitutional.”
Scheiderman has his own solution to the Cuomo corruption scandals: expand the capabilities of the attorney general, noting that he is already an “independent statewide constitutional officer” who is untied to the executive branch and therefore capable of checking its power.
In particular, Schneiderman called on the governor to allow him “original criminal jurisdiction to prosecute public corruption cases without first obtaining a specific referral from the Governor, Comptroller, or another State agency,” a power that Cuomo himself requested when he served as attorney general. Such an action, according to Schneiderman, would require only Cuomo’s approval, with no new legislation needed.
To defend the bill, Cuomo-spokesperson Rich Azzopardi pointed to a similar special prosecutor at the Justice Center, which Azzopardi said has withstood legal challenges.