New York’s former Democratic attorney general is under fire for using political campaign funds to defend himself in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.
And while it is actually legal for Eric Schneiderman to have paid the law firm that represented him using nearly $340,000 in campaign cash, critics are condemning the action, the Associated Press reported.
Schneiderman, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, resigned abruptly in May 2018 hours after an expose published by The New Yorker revealed allegations by four women that he had physically abused them.
Top Democrats were called on to return “dirty” money raised at high-priced fundraisers which Schneiderman hosted following his resignation.
The 64-year-old Democrat and vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement began to make payments to Clayman & Rosenberg LLP law firm a week after his resignation through his re-election committee, Schneiderman 2018, according to records reviewed by Associated Press.
“By and large, if you are an elected official, you can use your campaign contributions as a Get Out of Jail Free card,” Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, calling the system a “scandal.”
Schneiderman’s last payment was made in December, one month after the investigation was closed by a special prosecutor with no charges filed.
According to Associated Press:
Schneiderman’s personal legal bills, totaling $339,710, accounted for almost half of his re-election committee’s spending in the eight months since he left office, the records show. Other costs included rent for a Manhattan office and wages for a few employees.
The committee has also refunded about $1.5 million in contributions since Schneiderman’s resignation, including $5,000 to singer and actress Bette Midler. It still had about $6.5 million as of mid-January.
“That money was given in good faith by donors who expected Mr. Schneiderman to help women,” Democratic activist and writer Michelle Manning Barish said. Manning Barish had accused Schneiderman of abusing her when the two were dating in 2013.
“What a luxury to be able to assault women who donated to your campaign and then use their money to defend yourself,” she said.
A prior statement, which was cited by a spokeswoman for Schneiderman when asked for comment, said the campaign is “honoring its commitments and paying bills in accordance with applicable law and precedent.”
“Once the committee has honored all its commitments, the remaining funds will be donated to worthy and appropriate causes, consistent with the law,” the statement added.
Manning Barish called on Schneiderman to donate the money to charities.
“Mr. Schneiderman is obviously incapable of doing what is morally right on his own, so I am asking that the people demand he donate those campaign funds to help women,” she said. “That money does not belong to him.”
Schneiderman had used his powerful office to file multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration on issues ranging from pollution and net neutrality to birth control. Interestingly, it was Trump who predicted Schneiderman‘s epic downfall back in 2013.
Using campaign funds on personal legal bills is apparently not unusual, especially in New York, according to the Associated Press report which cited the millions of dollars spent by former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver fighting corruption charges. The former lawmakers were both convicted.
When legal matters have any connection to the official duties of elected officials, the law allows for the legal costs to be passed on to the campaign. Part of the investigation into Schneiderman’s case examined if he had used the attorney general’s office staff and resources in covering up or facilitating the alleged abuse.
Reform advocates are calling for an overhaul of New York’s campaign finance system, with one bill, for example, that would require an official convicted of a felony to shut down his or her campaign committee within two years, the AP reported.
“The system is a scandal,” Horner said. “New York State’s campaign finance system is generally a scandal, and this is another example of it.”
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