Cuomo’s Legal Spending Draws Concern
From the morning memo:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s use of his $35 million campaign war chest to represent his office in the ongoing Moreland Commission saga has drawn concern from at least one Democratic lawmaker in the state Senate as well as good-government groups.
“I would prefer we had a different law on our books,” said Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger in an interview on Capital Tonight. “I would prefer we would establish some standard for creating defense funds with specific rules attached and people if they choose can contribute to those. I believe that’s the federal model. But when we have campaign funds, I think the money should be spent on the electoral campaign.”
Krueger is one of the co-sponsors of a measure that would restrict the use of campaign funds for spending on criminal defense attorneys.
She added that Cuomo’s use of his campaign account to hire white-collar criminal lawyer Elkan Abramowitz is a legal avenue for the governor.
The governor’s office, too, has said using campaign funds is an alternative to spending taxpayer dollars as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office continues his investigation into Cuomo’s involvement in the commission.
“The governor does appear to be using some of his money for a lawyer. There’s nothing illegal about it. It is the law of New York state that he can do so,” Kureger said.
Good-government advocates in New York, too, are concerned with what they said was an unusual approach for legal representation.
“I mean, call us crazy, but we have an old-fashioned notion that campaign contributions should be used for campaigns, nothing else,” said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.
And the lawyer isn’t just representing Cuomo in the Moreland mess, but the entire governor’s office while federal investigators look into whether top aides played a role in blocking or directing subpoenas. That concerns Susan Lerner of Common Cause, who says an employer shouldn’t be hiring a lawyer for the entire office.
“Well, it’s unusual for the boss to control the lawyers for the employees as opposed to the company or the employer itself. So it’s unusual in that sense. And it’s certainly an unusual use of campaign funds,” said Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner.
As the Moreland controversy continued to swirl on Monday, Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino released a video online reiterating his call for term limits.
“It’s why we desperately need term limits in Albany for all parties,” said Astorino.
While most Democrats around the state have been muted in their defense of Cuomo during the investigation, his retiring Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy offered some support.
“I’ve been with the governor four years,” Duffy said. “While I have no direct or indirect knowledge of this stuff, I can tell you with my contact over the last four years, I have faith in him and it’s my expectation, my hope, that that faith will be maintained throughout this whole process. But I think we have to wait and see for the facts to come out.”
As for whether Moreland will play a role in the November election, Krueger says it’s too soon to tell.
“Right now, I think it’s too early for me to take bets whether the issues around the Moreland commission stories are a large negative in terms of Democrats coming out and voting or not,” she said. “I actually feel pretty good about the election scenarios for the Democrats in the Senate this November.”
Republicans are fighting to gain full control of the state Senate as their governing partners in the five-member Independent Democratic Conference plan to form a new leadership coalition with mainline Senate Democrats.
Republicans are targeting key districts upstate in the hopes of keeping power in the chamber, the last lever of power the GOP controls in the state.
“Not feeling so worried about them,” Krueger said of battleground incumbent lawmakers. “They’re doing a great job.”
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