Four North Country officials became members of the state's new Commission to Investigate Public Corruption on Tuesday.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, Essex County DA Kristy Sprague, Warren County DA Kathleen Hogan and Lake Placid businessman J. Patrick Barrett, who is chairman of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and chaired the Republican State Committee from 1989 to 1991, were selected to serve on the panel, which will investigate potential wrongdoing by political bodies across New York state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the panel's formation Tuesday in Albany.
Sprague said the governor's office called her directly on Monday to ask if she wanted to be on the commission. It was the first indication she had that she was a candidate.
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague speaks as the state’s new Commission to Investigate Public Corruption is formally announced today in Albany. At right is Albany County DA David Soares.
(Photo — governor’s office)
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne
(Enterprise file photo)
J. Patrick Barrett is seen on a fishing trip with Gov. Andrew Cuomo Saturday on Lower Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"There weren't a lot of details given," Sprague said. "We're going to have a meeting and basically set forth how the commission will be run. We'll have co-chairs who will be leading the commission, so we'll follow that lead and figure out where we're starting first."
Sprague met with Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the other commissioners at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany.
It is unclear whether Cuomo, who spearheaded the commission, will be a part of the commission or if he could also be scrutinized if commission members were suspicious of him.
"As far as I know know, he's not part of the commission," Sprague said. "Eric Schneiderman has basically given us all deputy attorney general power, so it's very broad-based power to investigate and do what we need to do."
The commission will have subpoena power and will focus on the influence of campaign contributions on state government and compliance with election and lobbying laws.
"The way I look at it is, trust is paramount to good government, and from what we're hearing, being out in the local communities, people are frustrated," Sprague said. "They're frustrated with our government; they're frustrated with corruption. They don't have that trust that used to be there, and that's what this commission was formed to try to get back to - putting the integrity back into our government."
Champagne said he worked on public corruption statutes when he was president of the state District Attorneys Association.
"If you use the numbers over the last several years, I believe 35 elected officials have been indicted, investigated and/or convicted of crimes regarding public corruption," Champagne said. "We don't necessarily have a great set of statutes in New York, and we don't have a set investigatory body in New York. By the attorney general deputizing each of the commissioners as special deputy attorney generals, that adds the extra enforcement aspect that might have been lacking if it was simply a commission under just the Executive Law."
Champagne added that he doesn't think the commission will be a big deal to the vast majority of the state's elected officials.
"Unfortunately, there is that percentage who have displayed that they clearly don't think the rules apply to them," Champagne said. "I think it's important to have a mechanism in place to address not only those people but new statutes, new rules, new regulations and new things that could be put in place to make the government a better government, to serve the people better and restore people's confidence," Champagne said.
Barrett agreed with Sprague's and Champagne's assessment that people have lost faith in the government and that the commission is a good first step toward restoring that faith.
"This is very badly needed," Barrett said. "If you just look at the polls, everybody has a terrible, terrible opinion of government with what's going on. I think we need to clean house and set our state on the right course."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.