New York State Pols Dip into Campaign Funds for Legal Defense

New York State pols dip into campaign funds for legal defense

New York Post

Pat Bailey

May 27, 2014

ALBANY — If politicians are accused of a crime in New York, their friends can pick up the tab — and it’s all legal.

Since 2004, more than $7 million in campaign contributions have been used on powerful attorneys, hired by shady pols instead of going to help re-elect them, a new report shows.

According to data released by the New York Public Interest Research Group, money was taken, at will, out of more than 20 politicians’ campaign war chests instead of their own pockets to defend themselves in court.

“If most New Yorkers were facing charges that arose from their job, they wouldn’t be able to call up people that do business before them to request money. It’s not a perk that should be given to legislators either,” said NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney.

In the past 10 years, 22 statewide elected officials have combined to use an eye-popping $7,139,535 in campaign funds to aid their legal battles.

Three spent more than $1 million each on legal fees, including former state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who shelled out $1.5 million from campaign coffers to defend himself.

Bruno, who was acquitted of federal corruption charges earlier this month, is seeking to have the state reimburse him his total legal costs of about $4 million — including the campaign cash.

Also in the million-plus category are former Gov. David Paterson and former Brooklyn state Sen. Carl Kruger, who dipped the deepest into his campaign account by using $1.7 million on lawyers.

In 2012, Kruger went to prison for seven years after he took bribes while in office.

Although completely legal, critics of the spending say it is unethical. NYPIRG’s report comes just weeks after The Post reported the now-defunct Moreland Commission panel investigating public ethics had turned over questionable campaign expenditures of lawmakers, which dated back several years, to the US Attorney’s Office.

In April, as part of the state budget, Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature agreed on what many consider to be a watered-down version of campaign-finance reform. However, language addressing campaign expenditures was still too broad, maintaining the use of funds that can be spent at will, said Mahoney.

“They have made promises they are going to fix the system and expand it, and this is something we strongly encourage them to include,” Mahoney added.

Heads of several good-government groups say there have been discussions with Cuomo’s office about a stricter campaign-finance bill to be acted on by the end of the legislative session in June.

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