Attorney General

Subpoena Aimed At Common Sense Principles Adjourned

An effort to quash a subpoena aimed at getting more information from a political consultant firm with ties to the shadowy Common Sense Principles committee has been adjourned until April 4, according to court documents filed late last week.

The adjournment comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing the Legislature to adopt a series of ethics reforms he inserted in his $142 billion budget proposal.

The firm, Strategic Advantage International, has been fighting an effort from the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption that is trying to determine who funded the group, which was aligned with Senate Republicans during the 2012 election cycle.

Common Sense Principles, designated a 501(c)4 non-profit, spent millions in the 2012 political campaign blasting three Democratic candidates for Senate: Sens. Ted O’Brien, George Latimer and Joe Addabbo.

The group skirted disclosure rules by filing paperwork with ethics regulators that showed its sole contribution came from an apparent shell company, effectively shielding individual donors.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has argued in court filings that having a better grasp of how Common Sense Principles was able to avoid sunlight was provide the Moreland Commission with an understanding of how dark money in state politics works.

But the company is fighting the subpoena, calling the effort unduly burdensome and a violation of its First Amendment rights.

The state Legislature in a separate legal challenge argues the commission doesn’t have the authority to seek more information on lawmakers’ outside income.

Commonsense by Nick Reisman

Schneiderman 2014 Staffs Up

The re-election campaign of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has hired key, top-level staffers drawn from both New York City and California, a source close to the campaign tells Capital Tonight.

Schniederman’s most recent hire is Peter Ajemian, who will serve as senior advisor for communications and research. Ajemian comes to the campaign from Marathon Strategies, the communications and strategy shop founded by veteran consultant Phil Singer, who has ties to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At Marathon, Ajemian’s portfolio included City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s successful 2013 campaign.

Ajemian is due to start next week, the source said.

On the finance side, the AG is also turning to Jeffrey Pennock, a fundraiser for California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Pennock’s resume includes Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 2010 bid for a Florida Senate seat and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Texas.

Stephanie Rodgers is serving as the New York finance director, who most recently served in a similar fundraising capacity for Daniel Squadron’s New York City public advocate campaign.

Both Pennock and Rodgers started late last year.

Schneiderman’s re-election campaign reported last month a cash-on-hand total of more than $5.9 million.

Before that, she was vice president at Darrison Barrett & Associates, a fundraising firm and has worked in the non-profit fundraising sphere at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Potential Republican candidates for attorney general include John Cahill, a former top aide to Gov. George Pataki and current business partner of the ex-governor’s. Schneiderman’s campaign went as far as to issue a fundraising appeal after the Cahill news was first reported.

Former U.S. Attorney Mike Battle, who is backed by party chairs in western New York, has also been floated as a potential candidate.

Schneiderman: Higher Ed In Prison ‘A No Brainer’

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman became one of the more prominent officials on Wednesday to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to provide access to college-level courses to state prison inmates.

Schneiderman backed the program in a speech unveiling his legislation that would make it easier for those wrongfully convicted to reclaim damages from the state.

In his remarks, Schneiderman criticized opponents of the proposal, which is aimed at reducing recidivism.

“Which is, again, about progressive, evidence based, criminal justice reform. And I say evidence-based because we see this today in the, sort of, push back about the notion of making higher education available to prisoners—which is a no brainer,” Schneiderman said. “There is not one piece of data that does not suggest this is a great thing. Again, it’s an approach that—I feel like we’re back in the same fight that they were in hundreds of years ago, when Beccaria wrote on crime and punishment. The whole idea of the book was, we shouldn’t be basing our system on superstition, we should be basing it on evidence. That was many hundreds of years ago. And sometimes I feel like the same willful ignorance is impeding our progress.”

Republican lawmakers as well as potential GOP candidate for governor Rob Astorino in particular have knocked Cuomo for suggesting the program as unfair to those who are struggling to afford a college education.

AG’s Office Settles With Former NARAL President

A suit first filed in June 2012 by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office that alleged former NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlin siphoned $250,000 in charitable donations has been settled, his office on Friday announced.

Capital Tonight first reported in 2011 that an internal audit by the NARAL affiliated charity, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, found Conlin had made multiple charges on her NARAL-issued credit card between 2008 and 2010, which included $5,709 worth of clothing from Giorgio Armani and Barney’s as well as a reimbursement for a Hamptons summer rental in 2009 totaling $17,000.

The agreement requires that Conlin will be permanently barred from serving as a financial officer for any non-profit organization registered in New York. At the same time, she has agreed to dismiss claims against NARAL she asserted in court and will pay $20,000 in restitution to the organization.

The settlement is subject to court approval.

“This settlement brings closure to an unfortunate chapter in the life of these reputable organizations,” said Harlan Levy, Chief Deputy Attorney General and Counsel to the Attorney General. “This office is committed to rooting out abuses of power in the charitable sector, holding wrongdoers accountable and working with nonprofit groups to help them tighten internal controls to prevent fraud and other illegal conduct.”

Schneiderman recused himself from the investigation into Conlin who, has the major lobbyist for abortion rights and reproductive health issues, was a close political ally. Schneiderman’s late father had served on the organization’s board.

Conlin had previously paid $75,000 in restitution made in connection to criminal charges and was part of a plea deal struck with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

Moreland Offered To Narrow Subpoena Scope Aimed At Common Sense Principles

Here is a short addendum to today’s Morning Memo on the latest developments in the effort by a political consultant to quash a Moreland Commission subpoena seeking more information on who funded the Republican-aligned Common Sense Principles.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a legal brief filed on Thursday argued that finding out who has been funding the group, which attacked Senate Democratic candidates in the lead up to the 2012 election, was vital to understanding how the group in order to formulate new regulations for disclosure.

The company that helped develop the website and provided consultant work for Common Sense Principles, Strategic Advantage International, is fighting the subpoena in state court.

In emails filed with the legal, the Moreland Commission offered to narrow the scope of its subpoena to only include information related to Common Sense Principles and its related entities and not information on political strategy, political candidates or messages.

The emails show that lawyers for the Strategic Advantage wasn’t going to agree to the narrowed scope of the subpoena.

More Land Email by Nick Reisman

AG: Shine Some Light On Common Sense Principles

Court documents filed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Thursday push back against an effort from a political consultant who is seeking to quash subpoenas from the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

The subpoena from the commission to Strategic Advantage International filed in December was aimed at shedding light on who funded the independent expenditure group Common Sense Principles.

Schneiderman’s main argument for upholding subpoena is this: Understanding how Common Sense Principles was able to allude sunlight will provide the Moreland Commission a key understanding of how dark money in state politics works and, what if any, changes to existing campaign spending regulations can be made.

The organization, designated a 501(c)4 non-profit, spent millions in the 2012 political campaign blasting three Democratic candidates for Senate: Sens. Ted O’Brien, George Latimer and Joe Addabbo.

When it came time for the group to disclose who funded its operations, Common Sense Principles filed paperwork showing its sole contribution came from an apparent shell company, shielding off any individual contributors.

The commission at the end of 2013 sent a subpoena to Strategic Advantage, which had developed the website for Common Sense Principles.

But the company is fighting the subpoena, calling the effort unduly burdensome and a violation of its First Amendment rights.

But Schneiderman’s office in the court filing contends that even when the scope of what’s being sought by the Moreland Commission was scaled back, the company continued to be uncooperative.

“In particular, the Commission emphasized its view that compliance with the subpoena would have to include documents demonstrating petitioners’ “interactions with Common Sense Principles and related persons and entities,” but not “communications regarding political strategy pertaining to specific candidates or particular political messages.”

Most importantly, Schneiderman’s office argues in the filing that the commission has the purview to find out who funded Common Sense in order to make informed recommendations to the state Legislature for potential ethics legislation.

“Obtaining this information would assist the Commission in determining not only whether existing election and lobbying laws had been followed, and the efficacy of those laws, but also, crucially, whether further disclosures should be mandated to ensure transparency in the funding and operation of dark money groups,” according to the brief.

There is also the “appearance” of corruption with so-called “dark money” groups like Common Sense Principles.

“Dark money also fosters the appearance that large contributors are hiding their identities because they are engaged in illicit or improper behavior. The disclosures sought by the Commission’s subpoenas will help the Commission determine both whether this appearance reflects reality, and whether additional disclosures (or other reforms) can dispel the appearance of corruption,” the brief says.

The filing comes as the Senate and Assembly continue to challenge the authority of the Moreland Commission to seek more information on lawmakers’ outside income.

Attorneys for the Legislature are challenging the subpoenas in the state court, but the timetable has been moved into March.

State lawmakers argue the commission is a product of the executive branch and cannot investigate the Legislature. The commission, however, points to Schneiderman granting its members the power of deputy attorneys general as a way around the separation of powers argument.

At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has inserted a package of ethics overhaul measures into his state budget proposal, including tighter restrictions on campaign finances and stronger anti-bribery laws as well as a system of publicly financed campaigns.

Memo of Law 2 6 2014 by Nick Reisman

Schneiderman Has Jury Duty (Updated)

Even the state’s top elected elected legal official can’t escape jury duty.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appeared for jury duty this morning in New York City, according to his official Twitter account.

He tweeted: “Proud to appear for #juryduty this A.M. at 60 Centre St in #NYC. It’s an honor to serve our #justice system.”

Updated: Schneiderman’s office says the AG was dismissed after about an hour.

Judge: Trump Fraud Suit Can Continue

Portions of a lawsuit brought on by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleging fraud at Donald Trump’s former Trump University can continue, a state judge ruled on Friday.

Judge Cynthia Kern ruled that Schneiderman’s fraud clamis “are timely” and continue to go forward.

At the same time, the general fraud claims are subject to a six-year statute of limitations, which is key considering that “university” was dropped from the school’s name in 2010.

And the judge ruled that Schneiderman’s office has standing to continue its claims under state education law.

“Today’s decision affirms the propriety of our fraud case against Donald Trump and his sham university,” said Schniederman spokesman Damien LaVera. “The judge determined that our office will have the opportunity to hold Mr. Trump accountable for all of the actions outlined in our complaint. Mr. Trump used his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got. No one, no matter how rich or popular they are, has a right to scam working families. Attorney General Schneiderman looks forward to making sure he is held accountable.”

Donald Trump’s office, however, is claiming victory in the ruling, pointing to the portions of the suit that were either tossed or made it more difficult for fraud to be proven.

Trump’s office had a different take, noting that those claiming fraud against the school will have to meet a higher evidentiary standard. Trump also points to the denial of Trump’s request to dismiss the AG’s request for an injunction , though the judge found this was moot given the institution is no longer training or taking on new students.

In a statement, Trump’s office said the ruling “validates what Trump University has been saying for months: that the lawsuit is a desperate attempt by AG Schneiderman to generate publicity, a waste of public resources and a case that should never have been brought.”

Trump is in Erie County this evening for a Republican reception being thrown by local party chairman Nick Langworhty. Trump has claimed he would run for governor this year if the statewide party is “unified” behind his candidacy.

201401311422 (2) by Nick Reisman

Langworthy: Battle Is My Guy

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy confirmed in an interview that will air on CapTon tonight that former Western New York US Attorney Michael Battle is indeed interested in a possible run for state attorney general, and has already met with state GOP Chairman Ed Cox – a meeting that actually took place earlier today.

Langworthy said he floated Battle’s name himself and plans to be “all for it” if the would-be candidate decides to through his hat in the ring.

the Bush administration, and then onto a senior Justice Department position in the Bush White House. I think, you know, he has the legal acumen to really make an excellent attorney general. And I think Eric Schneiderman is very vulnerable in the upcoming election.”

When I noted the potential weak spots in Battle’s resume – including his role (albeit small) in the Bush administration’s US attorneys hiring scandal – Langworthy retorted that it didn’t take long for the “Schneiderman attack machine to get fired up.” (Actually, I haven’t spoken to anyone from the AG’s office today, and found out about Battle’s background through a quick Google search).

Langworthy also spoke highly of another potential GOP attorney general candidate, John Cahill, a former top aide to ex-Gov. George Pataki. The chairman, who controls about 11.5 percent of the weighted state convention vote, thanks to Carl Paladino’s strong performance in Erie County in the 2010 governor’s race, said he’s “intrigued” by the idea of a Cahill candidacy.

My full interview with Langworthy will air tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

Watch Here >>

Another Republican With Pataki Ties Eyes AG Race

Michael Battle, a former US attorney for the Western District of New York and one time director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, is considering a possible run for state attorney general on the GOP line, sources familiar with his thinking said.

Battle has expressed interest in challenging Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman this fall to state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, according to a Republican source. Battle, who is now in private practice at the firm of Schlam Stone & Dolan, has so far not returned a call seeking comment. A state party spokesman also declined to comment.

An Ithaca College and Buffalo Law School grad, Battle was appointed in 1995 by the last Republican AG, Dennis Vacco, as an assistant AG in charge of the Buffalo Regional Office. In 1996, he was appointed by then Gov. George Pataki (and was subsequently elected) to the Erie County Family Court bench.

Interestingly, Pataki’s former top aide and current law partner, John Cahill, is also interested in running for AG this year, and has been talking with leaders in both the Republican and Conservative parties about a potential campaign.

Both he and Battle are relative unknowns in New York and would have to work hard to raise their name recognition with voters. Than again, polls have consistently shown that a majority of New Yorkers don’t know who Schneiderman is, despite the fact that he has held statewide office since January 2011.

Another former US attorney, Michael Garcia, has also been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate to challenge Schneiderman. But he seems to have fallen off the radar screen. Plus, any political run by him would be complicated by the fact that he represented the Senate GOP in its legal battle with the Moreland Commission.

Schneiderman will no doubt be able to count on his friends on the left – especially in the labor community – to assist him no matter who challenges him this fall. And the Democrats will have ample opposition fodder to use against Battle if he’s chosen to be the GOP’s AG candidate.

After six years as a judge, Battle was appointed by President George W. Bush to the US attorney post, which he held from 2002 to 2005. In 2005, Bush promoted Battle to be director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, where he had administrative oversight of all 93 US attorneys and served as liaison between them and the Justice Department and other federal agencies.

Battle played a role in a December 2006 controversy in which seven US attorneys received midterm dismissals – an unprecedented move – and were replaced with interim appointees under provisions of the Patriot Act reauthorization. Battle was charged with informing the seven that their services were no longer needed.

Subsequent congressional investigations focused on whether the DOJ and the White House were using the US attorney positions for political advantage. Some of the attorneys who lost their jobs were allegedly fired to impede ongoing investigations of Republican politicians or due to their failure to launch probes that targeted Democrats. As Congress began issuing subpoenas in the matter, Battle resigned on March 5, 2007.

There was also some controversy during Battle’s term as US attorney for the Western District, where he was responsible for the case of Benamar Benatta, who was held without trial for five years following his forcible rendition from Canada one day after the Sept. 11 attacks. The FBI determined Benatta was innocent, but he remained behind bars. A federal magistrate judge concluded Battle had conspired with the FBI and immigration agents to make it seem as if Benatta was being held for immigration violations.

Battle dropped the charges against Benatta in October 2003, but he wasn’t released until 2005.