New York politicians have spent more than $7 million of their campaign funds on attorney fees, in some cases for their own criminal defense, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group.
At least four current and two former lawmakers showed thousands of dollars in legal fees on their most recent campaign disclosure forms. In recent editions of Gannett newspapers, we took a look at why it’s permissible — essentially, the two sentences in state law that lay out allowable campaign expenses have been interpreted very broadly.
The office of freshman Sen. Ted O’Brien, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, points out that O’Brien sponsored a bill that would expressly prohibit such spending.
From the bill language:
“NO CAMPAIGN FUNDS SHALL BE USED TO PAY ATTORNEY’S FEES OR ANY COSTS OF DEFENDING AGAINST ANY CIVIL OR CRIMINAL ACTION, INVESTIGATION OR PROSECUTION FOR ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF STATE OR FEDERAL LAW ALLEGED TO HAVE BEEN COMMITTED BY A CANDIDATE, PUBLIC OR PARTY OFFICIAL, MEMBERS OF THEIR IMMEDIATE FAMILY OR DOMESTIC PARTNER
UNLESS SUCH EXPENDITURE IS USED EXCLUSIVELY FOR COSTS RELATED TO CIVIL ACTIONS INSTITUTED PURSUANT TO ARTICLE SIXTEEN OF THIS CHAPTER.”
The bill was introduced as part of the Senate Democrats’ ethics reform package, which was proposed after a slew of lawmaker arrests that started in April. “Campaign accounts should be used to support candidates getting into office, not fund attempts to stay out of prison,” O’Brien said at the time. UPDATED: Assembly Republicans included a similar provision in their ethics reform package, which defined “criminal defense or legal fees” as a personal expense.
Neither bill picked up a majority sponsor in either house, both languished in committee before lawmakers broke for the year in June.