Friday, November 12, 2010

State inspector general pushes for government watchdog

Corrupt Albany politicians may have finally met their match.

State Inspector General Joseph Fisch yesterday proposed the creation of a crimebusting office with sweeping powers to investigate all branches of state and local governments -- including members of the scandal-scarred Legislature.

"These are drastic times that require unorthodox solutions," Fisch told The Post.

He said he wanted a watchdog "with the authority and power and jurisdiction to look at the whole ball of wax."



Fisch noted that, under the law, the state inspector general only has authority to probe wrongdoing in the state executive branch or officers who fall under the employ of the governor -- not state lawmakers.

And he said there was no credible, independent agency to police the Legislature.

A beefed-up corruption-fighting agency would require approval of the governor and Legislature. Fisch said the appointment of the agency should be made by Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo.

"He has demonstrated his commitment to reform," Fisch said during a meeting with The Post editorial board.

Asked if the state's legislative leaders are committed to ethics reform, Fisch said, "I think the facts speak for themselves."

His bold plan comes on the heels of a devastating report he issued about the Aqueduct casino bid-rigging scandal.

The probe accused Albany players -- particularly Senate Democratic leader John Sampson and other key Senate officials -- of cavorting with lobbyists to steer the contract to a favored bidder, AEG.

A rogues' gallery of lawmakers from both parties has ended up in handcuffs for various crimes in recent years, largely thanks to federal prosecutors -- not state ethics probers.

They include former Queens Assemblyman and labor leader Brian McLaughlin, Queens Assemblyman Tony Seminerio, ex-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Bronx Sen. Guy Velella, among others.

Fisch said a new watchdog agency could be modeled after the defunct State Investigations Commission.

"I was saddened by the elimination of an entity which had all the authority and power to look at every aspect of government -- city, local, state, legislature, judiciary, executive -- everything," Fisch said.

Fisch said he intends to meet with Cuomo to discuss corruption fighting and ethics reform.

A Cuomo spokesman, asked about Fisch's proposal, referred to the incoming governor's "Clean Up Albany" campaign policy book.

In it, Cuomo proposed setting up an "independent" state ethics commission with enforcement powers to probe and punish ethics violations and law-breaking by members of the executive and legislative branches.

Government watchdogs consider the Legislative Ethics Commission, which should police lawmakers but rarely does, a joke.

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