QUICK LINKS:

New York State Exposed: Should lawmakers be allowed to use campaign money for legal fees?

Updated: 08/07/2014 5:43 PM
Created: 08/07/2014 6:29 AM WHEC.com
By: Berkeley Brean

For the average person, if you get in trouble and need a lawyer you have to pay for that yourself.  If you are a state lawmaker and you need a lawyer, you can use your campaign money.

More than seven million in campaign dollars has been used by state lawmakers for lawyers in the past ten years.

State Senator Ted O’Brien has his name on the bill that would prohibit the use of campaign money for legal defense. 

Senator O'Brien, (D) 55th District, said, “Unfortunately, the sad reality is that in just the last ten years, some 20 different state legislators look to use campaign money for criminal defense proceedings.”

The numbers come from a report by the New York Public Interest Research Group, known as NYPIRG. It compiled the list of current and former state lawmakers who spent the most campaign money on lawyers since 2004. No one spent more than former Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn. He spent $1.7 million. He is in prison for bribery. 

State Senator Tom Libous, of Binghamton, spent $25,000 campaign dollars on legal defense. Libous is currently charged with lying to the FBI. We contacted the senator's office to get his opinion on O’Brien’s bill. We did not get a reply. 

Senator O’Brien tried to get the bill to the Senate floor this year, but it got blocked. He says it is about fairness to the people who donate to politicians. 

Senator O'Brien said, “The donors don't recognize that they are necessarily contributing to a fund that could be used for criminal defense.”

Here is where it gets a little complicated for democratic senators like Ted O’Brien.  Governor Cuomo is using campaign money to pay for the lawyer he hired to deal with the Moreland Commission fallout. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Well, it could be paid for by taxpayer dollars, government dollars. I actually didn't want taxpayers to pay for it. So I said I would pay for it by the campaign.”

What does he think of O’Brien’s bill? 

Governor Cuomo said, “I'm not familiar with the bill, but you might want to check with him because he said it wouldn't apply.”

Berkeley Brean asked, “Would this bill apply to him?”

Senator O'Brien said, “Probably not.”

Here is why. O’Brien says the bill prohibits the use of campaign money for legal defense only, when a lawmaker has been charged with a crime or officially sued. That has not happened with the governor. 

Brean asked, “Do you think the governor should be using campaign funds for his attorney right now?”

Senator O'Brien said, “I think it is appropriate that we let law enforcement play the course and if it gets to the point that anyone, on either side of the aisle, is actually charged with violating state or federal law, then they should not be using campaign funds in my view.”

Brean asked, “Have you ever used campaign money for legal defense?”

Senator O'Brien said, “I have not.”

There was no local state lawmaker on NYPIRG's Top 20 list.  

Last year, the bill didn't get out of the election’s committee in the Senate. News10NBC contacted the chair of the committee to ask why. As soon as we get an answer, we'll let you know. 

Click here to read the campaign money bill. Click here to read NYPIRG's list of state lawmakers who use most of the campaign money for legal defense

NY State Senate Election Committee

Chair: Thomas F. O'Mara

Albany Office

Legislative Office Building Room 812

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: 518-455-2091

District Office

333 East Water Street (3rd Floor, Suite 301)

Elmira, NY 14901

United States

Phone: 607-735-9671

Greg Ball

District Office

1441 Route 22 Suite 205

Brewster, NY 10509

United States

Phone: (845) 279-3773

Albany Office

817 Legislative Office Building Empire State Plaza

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: (518) 455-3111

Martin Malavé Dilan

Albany Office

188 State Street Room 711B, Legislative Office Building

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: (518) 455-2177


District Office

718 Knickerbocker Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11221

United States

Phone: (718) 573-1726

Patrick M. Gallivan

Albany Office

947 LOB

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: 518-455-3471

District Office

2721 Transit Road Suite 116

Elma, NY 14059

United States

Phone: 716-656-8544

Liz Krueger

Albany Office

172 State Street Room 905 Legislative Office Building

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: (518) 455-2297

District Office

1850 Second Avenue

New York, NY 10128

United States

Phone: (212) 490-9535

Kathleen A. Marchione

Albany Office

188 State Street Legislative Office Building - Room 306

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: (518) 455-2381

District Office

2 Halfmoon Town Plaza

Halfmoon, NY 12065

United States

Phone: 518 371-2751

Michael F. Nozzolio

District Office

119 Fall Street

Seneca Falls, NY 13148

United States

Phone: (315) 568-9816

Albany Office

188 State Street, Room 503, Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: (518) 455-2366

Diane J. Savino

District Office

36 Richmond Terrace Suite 112

Staten Island, NY 10301

United States

Phone: (718) 727-9406

District Office 2

2872 West 15th Street

Brooklyn, NY 11224-2602

United States

Phone: (718) 333-0311

Cecilia Tkaczyk

Albany Office

311 Legislative Office Building Empire State Plaza

Albany, NY 12247

United States

Phone: 518-455-2470

District Office

42 Crown St,

Kingston, NY 12401

United States

Phone: 845-331-3810





News10NBC/WHEC-TV welcomes your opinion and interaction on our website, but please remember to keep it clean. If you're advertising for another business, being profane, vulgar or slanderous your post will be deleted. By commenting on this website, you agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Use. Comments are not pre-screened before they posted.

Rochester

Overcast
51°
52° | 44°
  • Feels like: 51° F
  • Wind: NNE 15mph
  • Humidity: 71%
  • Thu Showers ending by midday
    55° | 43°
  • Fri Plenty of sun
    59° | 44°
  • Sat Chance of showers
    62° | 48°
  • Sun Windy, and mainly cloudy
    49° | 41°