David Cole reviews Zephyr Teachout's Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, in the NYRB (photo by Lauren Lancaster):
The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, is now investigating whether the governor or others violated federal laws by obstructing corruption investigations. Cuomo’s response has been to strong-arm former commission members into issuing public statements supporting him that contradict their own earlier complaints, and simultaneously to assert that since the commission was a creation of the executive branch, any obstacles he may have put in its path cannot possibly constitute interference. So much for independence.
In light of these problems, it is perhaps not surprising that Cuomo appears more threatened than he should be by a challenge in the primary for governor from Zephyr Teachout, an obscure law professor from Fordham Law School. Teachout has less than $200,000 in her campaign coffers as compared to Cuomo’s $32 million. Cuomo sued to bar Teachout from running for governor on the ground that she had not resided for the requisite five years in New York State, even though she has been employed at Fordham Law School and had an apartment in New York since June 2009. A trial court found Teachout eligible to run in the primary scheduled for September 9, and a court of appeals affirmed. Cuomo can’t really be concerned that she will pose a serious challenge at the polls. But Teachout’s central focus—as both a candidate and a professor of law—is on fighting corruption, and right now, that may well be Cuomo’s Achilles heel.
Indeed, according to Teachout, corruption is not just Cuomo’s—or New York’s—problem. It is the most pressing threat that our democracy faces. And the problem, as Teachout sees it, is that those in power refuse to admit it. Just as Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission’s inquiry into corruption, so the Supreme Court, by adopting an ahistorical and improperly narrow view of corruption, has shut down an exploration of the very real threat that unrestricted campaign spending actually poses to our democracy.