Friday, April 6, 2018

NY AG Opposes Changes to Enforcement Counsel at BoE

The Politically Appointed Commissioners of the New York Board of Elections (BoE) released New Rules on Thursday that would Grant them more Oversight of Investigations Conducted by the Board's Independent Chief Enforcement Counsel, Risa Sugarman.

Following a 60-day Public Comment Period, the Board will decide whether to Adopt or Modify the Regulations, which would require Sugarman to Request Approval from the four Commissioners before Issuing Subpoenas for Ongoing Investigations.

Sugarman said she received a Copy of the Rules less than 24 hours before the Monthly Meeting, which she said was Insufficient Time to Review the New Rules. "[The rules] were drafted in secret; I did not know anything about them," Sugarman said at Thursday's Meeting, which was notably less contentious than past Board Meetings. "I will be reviewing them and will be issuing a public comment during the public comment period."

Under State Law, Commissioners become involved in Investigations at Three Phases: when the Inquiry is Opened, when there is a Referral Request, and at the Closure of an Investigation. The Board, is made up of Two Democrats and Two Republicans, have long Charged that Sugarman has not been forthcoming about the Status of the Unit's Investigations. They are seeking the Authority to Vote on a List the Names and Entities she plans to Subpoena, as well as the Scope of her Questioning. If the Commissioners are Split, Sugarman would provide the Tie-Breaking Vote.

"The idea is to bring the unit more within the agency as far as providing both transparency and accountability, like we do with all of our units," said Republican Board of Elections Co-Chairman Peter Kosinski.

The Proposed Rules would also allow a Person or Entity to Appeal a Subpoena from Sugarman's Office, including to "quash or modify" it. The BoE would Refer the Case to a Hearing Officer, who would then issue a Report. Commissioners would Review the Report and decide whether to Rescind or Modify the Subpoena.

Government Reformers say the New Regulations would undermine the Independence of the Enforcement Counsel's Office. "It's unbelievable," said Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Scandals everywhere, a terrible campaign finance system — and the only thing the parties can agree to do is knock out the few teeth that existed for this watchdog."

Sugarman's Unit was Created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 following a Series of Corruption Trials, and also the Premature Closure of Cuomo's Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. Since then, her Investigations and Lawsuits have unsettled many within and outside Agency. For instance, an Investigation by Sugarman's Office into the "Housekeeping" Expenditures of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, has resulted in an ongoing Court Battle, with Senate Republicans alleging, among other things, that Sugarman's inquiry is Over-Broad.

Sugarman's office is looking into whether the Campaign Illegally used its Housekeeping Account, which is not bound by State Contribution Limits, to Pay for Campaign Flyers for GOP Candidates in Select New York Swing Districts.

The New Regulations also specify that a Gun should not be Carried in the Office outside of Designated Law Enforcement areas. The Language seems to be another jab at Sugarman, who, along with some of her Investigators, carries a Weapon.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a Statement Friday criticized the Effort to tinker with the Independent Enforcement Counsel’s Powers at the State BoE. The concern stems in part from Language released Thursday that some worry could Hamper the Power of the Enforcement Counsel to Investigate potential Violations of Election Law.

“Risa Sugarman has been a critical partner in my office’s fight to root out fraud and abuse in our state’s campaign finance system. By working with a strong, independent Enforcement Counsel at the Board of Elections, we’ve held public officials accountable time and again for breaking the law and cheating New Yorkers,” Schneiderman said.

“It is deeply disturbing that the Board of Elections would consider gutting one of the few tools that exist to root out public corruption in New York—or sideline a dedicated professional like Risa Sugarman who is committed to upholding the rule of law.”

Schneiderman, who has Prosecuted Political Corruption Cases, said any Dilution of the Counsel’s Powers would be Troubling. “Any weakening of the Enforcement Counsel’s authority or independence would only encourage more corruption across New York State,” he said. “The Board of Elections should reject any proposal that does so, without delay.”

CLICK HERE to read the New Rules.

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