Attorney General

Schneiderman: Cuomo ‘Same Guy He Was Six Months Ago’

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman brushed off a question on Friday about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate favorability rating and potential future as a candidate for re-election in 2018.

“We just got through running for re-election,” Schneiderman said during a news conference in Syracuse. “I just ran as a runningmate with the governor six months ago. He’s the same guy he was six months ago. Ups and downs in the polls don’t effect my thinking about this. I’m looking forward to working together for the next four years and as long as we’re working together after that.”

Cuomo is yet to declare whether he will run for a third term, though his campaign committee this month was renamed Andrew Cuomo 2018.

At the same time, his former top aide, Larry Schwartz, said in a statement sent to Capital Tonight shortly after that he expected the governor to run again.

Still, Schneiderman is seen as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination in his own right and has staked out a more assertive posture when it comes to the governor on a variety of issues, ranging from the mass deletion of emails to increasing the state’s minimum wage through the Department of Labor.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has a difficult year both with the state budget and continued estrangement from the political left in the state. A Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll released this week found 61 percent of upstate voters have an unfavorable view of the governor. Statewide, his favorable rating is much higher, standing at 58 percent.

Schneiderman is due to speak before the Democratic Rural Conference this evening, a key upstate constituency for any statewide Democratic official. The DRC backed Cuomo’s unsuccessful 2002 run for governor.

Schneiderman Pushes Cuomo On Minimum Wage

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman nudged Gov. Andrew Cuomo on to increase the state’s minimum wage himself in a Daily News op/ed published on Thursday.

In the op/ed, Schneiderman writes that Cuomo can convene a wage board through the Department of Labor that could hike the state’s minimum wage, which is due to increase to $9 by the end of the year.

“While the statewide minimum wage is set by the Legislature and the governor, state law endows the state’s commissioner of labor with the authority to investigate and increase the minimum wage for any occupation if the commissioner determines that a substantial number of employees ‘are receiving wages insufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health,'” Schneiderman wrote.

The call will likely embolden minimum wage advocates and labor groups to push Cuomo on creating the wage board for a broader increase.

Cuomo previously convened a wage board to consider a minimum wage increase for tipped workers, which was ultimately approved.

A minimum wage increase as proposed by Cuomo — called “modest” by Schneiderman in the op/ed — was not approved in the state budget this year.

Cuomo had proposed a two-tier wage for New York City at $11.50 and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

The call for the wage board from Schneiderman comes after rallies and protest nationwide for a $15 minimum wage.

Schneiderman also notes from a tactical point of view, a wage board could spur state lawmakers into action.

“As a practical matter, faced with the real prospect of action by the commissioner of labor, legislators would be much more likely to pass an increase that could otherwise be held up for years,” he wrote. “Lawmakers zealously guard their prerogatives and, as much as some might oppose a minimum-wage increase, they will not want to see the issue taken out of their hands.

The op/ed continues an increased emphasis from Schneiderman not just on issues friendly to liberals in New York, but a more aggressive posture toward Cuomo, which has come to include urging him to take a bolder approach on ethics measures.

Schneiderman late last year sought to have Cuomo grant him power to probe police-related deaths involving unarmed civilians, a call that came after a grand jury declined to indict a New York City police officer in the choke hold death of Eric Garner.

Schneiderman’s Income Supplemented With Investments

Eric Schneiderman earned $327,516 combined with his pay as the state’s attorney general through income earned through dividends and gains made on investments, according to his tax returns made public today.

Schneiderman reported earning $150,971 in regular income, while also earning $49,459 through dividends. At the same time, Schneiderman reported $127,086 in income from capital gains through the sale of mutual funds.

Schneiderman paid $67,397 in federal income taxes last year and was owed $213, which he applied to next year’s taxes.

On the state level, Schneiderman paid $31,103 in taxes and owed $1,306, according to the returns provided by his office.

Schneiderman contributed $10,600 to various charities. He gave $8,400 to Manhattan synagogue B’nai Jeshurun. He contributed $1,000 to the Daily News Charities for the fallen officers fund following the assassinations of two New York City police officers.

A $200 donation to the ALS Association was also made by Schneiderman last year.

Schneiderman also gave $1,000 to a Go Fund Me campaign that benefited the family of Mark Hoops, a longtime employee of the attorney general’s Poughkeepsie office. Hoops was diagnosed with ALS and, following that, his wife was treated for being in a serious car accident and had trouble caring for her husband due to limited mobility as a result.

Schneiderman had initially made the donation to the Hoops family fund anonymously.

Morelle, Gallivan To Carry AG’s Payroll Protections Legislation

A measure aimed at strengthening protections for workers who use payroll cards is being backed by Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Tuesday.

The measure is designed to also clarify issues in the current laws that regulate payroll cards.

The bill would require a “clear disclosure” of fees associated with payroll cards and restrict some fees from being charged on them.

The legislation was initially proposed last year.

“Workers shouldn’t have to pay to get their pay,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “While payroll cards can be helpful for employees without bank accounts, too often workers see their hard-earned wages chipped away by fees. The Payroll Card Act will ensure that workers have free and clear access to their wages, and provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.”

The legislation has the support from a number of labor groups ranging from RWDSU annd the Rochester Genesee Valley Labor Federation.

Schneiderman, Bharara Team Up On Bank Settlement

The Bank of New York Mellon has agreed to a $714 million settlement with the state and federal governments following investigations stemming from fraudulent foreign-exchange practices, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced on Thursday.

New York state and the Department of Justice are each is in line to receive $167.5 million from the settlement.

As part of the settlement, the bank has agreed to acknowledge details of fraud and will terminate the employment of executives involved in the scheme, along with promises of improving their practices.

Schneiderman’s office plans to return the state’s share to victims of the fraud. Both the state deferred compensation plan and SUNY were customers of Bank of New York Mellon and were defrauded, the attorney general’s office said.

The joint effort from Schneiderman and Bharara comes as both men have made efforts to clean up the Albany’s ethics.

Bharara, of course, has made multiple high-profile corruption cases and last month successfully sought the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Bharara, who is probing the shutdown of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, has been critical in recent weeks of Albany’s budget-making process, including the “three-men-in-a-room” negotiating structure.

Schneiderman, meanwhile, this week gave a speech before the good-government group Citizens Union urging ethics reform measures and encouraged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to not compromise on the issue.

Schneiderman To Cuomo: Don’t Compromise On Ethics

In speech at Citizens Union in New York City on Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to not compromise on ethics reform in the state budget, saying a late spending plan “would be a small price to pay.”

And as Cuomo seeks to tie spending to his ethics measures — which would require new disclosure for state lawmakers as well as have them submit receipts for travel reimbursement — Schneiderman is calling the tactic perfectly legal.

“The Governor has proposed to enact some reforms through this year’s State budget,” Schneiderman said in the speech, according to his prepared remarks. “We should support his leadership in using this perfectly constitutional mechanism. In fact, I would urge the Governor to hold out for even bolder reforms, including the proposals I have outlined tonight. In doing so, he would have the support of both the Constitution and the people of the State of New York.”

But aside from siding with Cuomo over his scuffle with state lawmakers over his budgetary tactics, the speech from Schneiderman was a call for not compromising on reforming Albany as ethics
continue to dominate the political landscape at the Capitol.

“The people of this great state demand comprehensive, fundamental reform,” Schneiderman said. “They deserve nothing less.”

Calls for more ethics reform were renewed this year following the arrest of longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

A host of reform measures have been called for, ranging from term limits to capping outside income of state lawmakers as well as strengthened disclosure requirements.

Meanwhile, the attorney general also laid out his own vision for stemming the tide of corruption in state government and politics.

In the address, Schneiderman calls for four-year legislative terms for state lawmakers as opposed to two-year terms.

He endorsed a complete ban on outside income, along with a pay raise for legislators “between what New York City Council members and members of Congress are currently paid.”

Schneiderman called for an end to per diem payments and a cap on travel reimbursements as well as equitable office allocations for lawmakers and staff.

On campaign finance reform, Schneiderman called for a ban on unlimited political giving through limited liability corporations, ending soft money or “housekpeeing” committees and public matching funds for campaigns.

He also spoke derisively of previous ethics reform efforts that have fallen short, including an agreement in last year’s state budget that created new anti-corruption laws as well as an independent enforcement counsel at the Board of Elections.

“It looks, to the people of New York State, like one charade after another,” Schneiderman said. “Sadly, every time incremental reforms have been called ‘sweeping’ or ‘groundbreaking’—billed as a solution to the problem—those words have been proven false. In fact, the primary impact of many highly touted, marginal reforms has been to allow business as usual to continue.”

Schneiderman as a state senator sought to pass an ethics package which was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. David Paterson who asserted it didn’t go far enough.

“This bill does nothing but good,” he said at the time. “To veto it because it doesn’t do everything sends the wrong message.”

But much of today’s remarks, which included praise for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, appeared aimed at Cuomo, who has over the last five years touted his ability to compromise with state lawmakers on just about any issue, including ethics reform legislation.

The lack of compromise on ethics legislation in 2013 led to the formation of the Moreland Commission On Public Corruption, which was disbanded less than a year later following an agreement on anti-corruption measures in the budget.

Bharara has opened an inquiry on the circumstances of the commission shutting down and Cuomo’s office has come under scrutiny for its reported involvement in the commission. The U.S. attorney has been subsequently critical of Albany’s budget-making process and the “three-men-in-a-room” meetings.

The speech will likely do little to further the chilly relationship between Cuomo and Schneiderman, who have publicly disagreed over a variety of issues in the last five years.

Schneiderman pointedly makes note of Cuomo declining to grant the attorney general’s office broader power in going after public corruption.

“I have asked Governor Cuomo to grant a general referral: a standing order to investigate and prosecute any case of public corruption, which he supported when he was Attorney General, and which, as Governor, he can grant me with the stroke of a pen,” Schneiderman said. “My request was denied.”

AG Backed Email Purge Policy Before Rejecting It

Also from the Morning Memo:

AG Eric Schneiderman raised eyebrows and won praise yesterday after he decided to suspend the controversial 90-day email purge policy that has existed in his office since at least 2007 (or maybe even longer) and directed his counsel to come up with a new email retention policy.

The announcement came after several state lawmakers introduced legislation that would create a new email retention policy for the state, requiring that online communications be preserved for at least seven years – much like how the federal government currently operates.

About two hours after news of Schneiderman’s suspension broke, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief spokeswoman, Melissa DeRosa, issued a statement announcing the governor will “convene a meeting” with representations from the Legislature, and the AG and state comptroller to come up with a uniform email and FOIL policy that applies to all state officials and agencies.

Cuomo did not, however, follow Schneiderman’s lead in suspending the current – and much-maligned – purge policy, which he has implemented across executive agencies, while he and other officials try to figure out a better way to address the retention issue.

There has been a lot of finger pointing involved with this issue – especially as the subject of preserving emails and making them public has become a very hot topic, thanks to the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server based in her Westchester County home to conduct public business while she was secretary of state.

While it appeared that Schneideman’s office was merely continuing a policy put in place by his predecessors, internal documents obtained through a FOIL request indicate that’s not actually the case.

First – a word about the timeline on the 90-day purge policy. According to the AG’s office, it had been in place since 2007, which was the first year Cuomo served as AG.

But a 2007 memo to members of the AG staff on email retention and disposition policy indicates the effort to manage email retention actually dates back to at least 2005, which was when Eliot Spitzer was in charge of the office.

That same memo says the AG’s office was guided by general policies established by the state Archives and then-Gov. Spitzer, whose former top aides have (anonymously) disputed that a policy permanently deleting emails after a 90-day period ever existed.

“Former Attorney General Spitzer attempted to streamline the system in 2005 by reducing allowable megabytes. That method proved too difficult to implement,” the memo states.

“As Governor, he is now modernizing the e-mail communication system by imposing a 90-day time limit for retention of e-mails. We are conforming our policy to match that of the Executive.”

At the time, officials were concerned that saving too many emails would result in an “overloaded and underproductive” system and a volume that “overwhelms the capacity of our technology.”

Considerable advancements have been made on that front, with nearly unlimited storage space for online documents now readily available and also affordable.

According to a 2014 memo, the AG’s office took a hiatus from the 90-day purge policy that lasted about three years, thanks to a switch from GroupWise to Microsoft Outlook.

In May 2014, the office decided to re-implement the policy, noting that agencies statewide had adopted it under now-Gov. Cuomo, and the AG’s office was “ready to move back to this best practice.”

“Although retaining emails in Outlook can be a convenient way to store information for future reference, it is not a sustainable document management approach,” reads the memo to the AG’s staff from his chief operating officer, Shanti Nayak.

“Today, OAG is storing vast amounts of email data on our servers. This is difficult to manage at both the individual and organizational level, is slowing down our email systems and is causing us to retain many emails that do not need to be preserved under law.”

Nayak’s memo also notes that under this system, all litigation holds – automatically preserved by the AG’s IT department without action necessary by individual users – would continue.

Cuomo to Convene Email & FOIL Policy Confab

In the wake of AG Eric Schneiderman’s announcement that he is suspending the controversial 90-day email purge policy put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the governor’s spokeswoman announced he will “convene a meeting” with representatives of the Legislature and fellow statewide elected officials to come up with a uniform email and FOIL policy that applies to all of them.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa reminded everyone in a statement released early this evening that the email policy in question – for which the governor has been weathering considerable criticism – was put in place in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and “expanded” to include the AG’s office (held by Cuomo at the time) that same year.

“We believe the policy should honor transparency while maintaining efficiency,” DeRosa continued. “To that end, as the Attorney General and the legislature appear open to revising their policies, the Governor’s office will convene a meeting with representatives from the legislature, the Attorney General and the Comptroller to come up with one uniform email retention and FOIL policy that applies to all State officials and agencies.”

(For the record, while the AG’s office did adopt the purge policy, the state comptroller’s office did not, and, according to his office, neither storage nor slowness caused by too many emails clogging the system has never been a problem).

Hours before Schneiderman’s announcement, several members of the Legislature introduced email retention policy legislation – most of it based on the federal government’s policy, which requires emails to be preserved for at least seven years.

The Cuomo administration has suggested that if this issue is going to be broached, it should also include discussion of making the Legislature subject to FOIL, which it currently is not. The bill proposed by Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell and Sen. Liz Krueger, both Manhattan Democrats, does just that.

Another bill proposed by Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, addresses issues raised by the Hillary Clinton email scandal by requiring state officials to use government email accounts – not personal accounts – for official business.

DeRosa did not set a timeline for the email/FOIL meeting. But the governor is clearly trying to get out from under an issue that has generated a lot of negative attention, thanks in part to the greater-than-usual interest in all things email-related, thanks to the revelation that Clinton used a private server based in her Westchester County home for emails when she was serving as secretary of state. Earlier this week, Clinton finally held a press conference to address the controversy, and revealed she and her team had deleted some 30,000 emails deemed “private and personal.”

Clinton said that she had used her private system out of “convenience,” and admitted that using two different phones – one for private communication, the other for business (and, in her case, national security matters) – would have been smarter. “I thought one device would be simpler; obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way,” she said.

Cuomo’s Email Purge Policy Dates To AG Days

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press office is busy downplaying the governor’s controversial 90-day email purge policy, saying the practice has been in place in the executive chamber – albeit not enforced across executive agencies – since 2007.

In other words, since before Cuomo took office in January 2011.

That would mean this policy was established under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was elected in 2006 and knew a little something about the power of an email trail from his days in the AG’s office.

And speaking of the AG’s office, it turns out the executive branch isn’t the place where the 90-day purge policy exists.

The NYS Department of Law, currently headed by AG Eric Schneiderman, adopted that selfsame policy way back in 2007 – in other words, the year Cuomo succeeded Spitzer in the AG’s office.

An AG office source confirmed Schneiderman opted to keep the email deletion policy put in place by Cuomo. According to this source, the office maintains “any emails that may be relevant to litigation – including the discovery process of a potential or ongoing case.”

Asked how the AG’s office determines which emails, exactly, are going to be pertinent in yet-unknown future lawsuits, and what is kept, the source replied:

Anything that could constitute as evidence in the discovery process – emails from clients regarding a case, minutes of meetings, documents that initiative or complete a business transaction, final reports. It’s not an automatic ‘hold’ per se, but the lawyers follow this closely – otherwise their investigations and cases would be hampered.

Meanwhile, the state comptroller’s office is also reviewing Cuomo’s 90-day purge policy with an eye toward determining if any of its functions – namely, investigations and audits – will be negatively impacted.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman noted that email trails are often used by investigators to catch government officials engaged in wrongdoing, and if those trails are no longer available, it could curtail corruption-busting probes.

DiNapoli’s office does not have an email purge policy, and has “no intention” of following Cuomo’s policy, Freeman said.

Any email deleted by a staffer in the comptroller’s office is backed up for two weeks, and all executive and senior staff members have been afforded “extensive” amounts of storage space to avoid having to delete anything that might be of value sometime down the road.

“There’s no way storage is an issue,” Freeman said. “It’s cheap.”

Freeman said DiNapoli has both private and state-issued emails accounts, and sometimes uses the former for public business. When the comptroller first took office, he was issued a public account and was “blasted” with emails, Freeman explained. As a result, multiple email accounts were established for the comptroller, with some of his work emails monitored by his assistants.

Schneiderman To Re-Introduce ‘Expanded’ Zombie Property Bill

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday announced plans to re-introduce an expanded version of a measure designed to address vacant and abandoned homes undergoing foreclosure proceedings.

The bill, aimed at addressing “zombie” properties would seek to reduce the number of abandoned properties in a state of disrepair by informing residents of their right to stay at the home until a court order to is issued requiring them to do so.

At the same time, the bill would require lenders to maintain and secure vacant properties earlier in the process of foreclosure. A registry of properties undergoing foreclosure would also be made available to local governments that enforce property maintenance laws.

“Leaving zombie properties to rot is unfair to municipalities and unfair to neighbors, who pay their taxes and maintain their homes,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “In the next two weeks, my office will resubmit to the Legislature our bill that would require banks to take responsibility for maintaining properties much earlier in the foreclosure process, take that burden off of towns and cities, and allow local governments to more easily identify the mortgagees of these properties to make sure they maintain them. And as my office enforces the requirement that banks take responsibility for these properties, any fines we levy will go into a fund to help towns and cities hire more code enforcement officers.”

The bill is expected to be sponsored by Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and Sen. Jeff Klein, Democrats both.