Cuomo Using Campaign Cash for Legal Fees

Governor Andrew Cuomo has lawyered up and he's using campaign funds to pay legal fees.

This puts State Senator Ted O'Brien in a potentially awkward position. Capital New York reports O'Brien introduced legislation last year that would forbid politicians from using campaign money to pay for legal expenses related to civil or criminal investigations. The bill, which has a dozen sponsors, has not been passed. O'Brien is a Democrat, like Cuomo.

The New York Daily News reported the governor is dipping into his $35 million campaign account to pay a white collar defense attorney to advise his office during a federal prosecutor's investigation of the Moreland Commission. 

The Moreland Commission is an anti-corruption panel set up and then disbanded by Cuomo. A U.S. Attorney is investigating the cases Moreland was working on. He's also investigating why the panel shut down and whether the governor's office interfered in panel investigations. The New York Times reports the federal prosecutor warned the governor not to contact panel members, after several of them sent statements to the media supporting the governor.

O'Brien doesn't think his bill would prevent the governor from using campaign money for legal fees.

"This is in respect specifically to when law enforcement has said there's been a violation of law, either state or federal law," O'Brien said, noting there are no specific allegations.

O'Brien notes the governor created the panel because the legislature wouldn't pass an ethics reform package, including his legal fee bill. Cuomo claims he broke up the commission when lawmakers finally passed ethics reform. The reforms didn't include O'Brien's bill.

"The state legislature didn't police itself so the governor had to setp in," O'Brien said. "I think the end result maybe isn't bad, that it ends up in the hands of the U.S. Attorney office and an appropriate investigation will be conducted. That's what I hope."

Meanwhile, during a stop in Rochester today, Attorney General Eric Schniederman declined to comment on the Moreland Commission investigation, other than to say he had limited involvement in the panel.

"I have nothing to say. There's ongoing investigations arising out of the Moreland Commission, working with my colleagues on those and I have no comment," Schneiderman said.

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