NY State is trying to do its best to surpass Illinois in Scandals. According to Bloomberg News NY State Attorney General and President Obama’s choice for the next NY Governor, Andrew Cuomo took campaign contributions from law firms defending clients who the AG’s office was investigating for wrong-doing.
Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP, a New York law firm led by David Boies, gave Cuomo $35,000 this year, records show. The firm represents former American International Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg in a civil fraud case the attorney general is pursuing. Lawyers defending Dell Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and a former state political party chief in Cuomo cases also contributed to him, records show.
Cuomo’s campaign ask donors to sign statement saying they have no “matter” pending with the AG’s office. The loophole is that rule “does not extend to attorneys representing persons or entities with matters before the NYS Attorney General’s office,” the form states. According to Cuomo’s campaign they are mirroring his predecessors’ policies.
“If Cuomo doesn’t want to accept contributions that have the appearance of being corrupting, then he would need to include those attorneys as well,” said Allison Hayward, a former Federal Election Commission chief of staff and counsel who teaches legal ethics at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia.
Middlemen, such as lawyers, are sometimes seen as a bigger threat to an official’s integrity than their clients, because “they are working the political system for a profession, and the public sees them as insincere and manipulative,” she said.
Cuomo plans to run for governor, according to a person familiar with his plans. His ‘Andrew Cuomo 2010’’ campaign fund has raised $16 million to challenge fellow Democrat, Governor David Paterson, a person familiar with his plans said.
If Cuomo were to reject lawyer donations to avoid any appearance of conflict, he could still raise enough for “a credible campaign,” said Ronald Michaelson, a former national chairman of the Council of Governmental Ethics Laws who teaches at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“Even if he’s going to use the money in a gubernatorial race, he would still be the attorney general,” he said in an e- mail. “The perception of impropriety is obviously clear, and that’s reason enough to refuse the money.”
It is a clear choice for Cuomo, it might be made easier as Governor Patterson is perceived as a weak candidate. On The other hand, while Cuomo is believed to have the support of the POTUS, as Obama’s approval rating falls his support may become more of a liability even in fiercely Democratic New York State, or at the very least, not help a lick as was the case in the recent New Jersey Election.
Excluding large groups of donors might make Cuomo a leader in ethics while hurting his chance to be elected, said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, New York, a nonprofit that promotes honesty in government.
“People who run for office are between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “The system stinks. If you don’t want people running for office to be influenced by campaign contributions, then you have to give them public money to run.”
It seems as if Cuomo is going to take the money despite the appearance of conflict of interest:
Richard Bamberger, a Cuomo spokesman, said in an e-mail, “Lawyers appear constantly before all sorts of government agencies, whether it is the Mayor’s Office, the Governor’s Office, or countless agencies and boards. No one would argue that lawyers can’t donate to candidates for any of these offices. Indeed, the ABA and New York State rules specifically encourage lawyers to participate in the political process.”
According to State Records, former Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer, took lawyer donations too from those with cases before him when he was AG. Boies gave him $15,000 and the Boies Schiller firm gave $10,000 in 2004 (it is not known whether he was wearing socks).
“Candidates in New York State for district attorney, judge, attorneys general, and all other offices have operated under the very same rules for decades,” Bamberger said.
Peter Harvey, a partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, who attended a Nov. 18 lawyer fundraiser for Cuomo and has been a supporter since Cuomo ran for attorney general, said that a contribution means “you get a meeting.”
But even that meeting is more than the rest of us can get.
The issue is not whether Cuomo did something wrong or not, the Issue is taking money from lawyers representing clients who are under AG investigation gives the appearance of scandal, that alone should stop this suspect practice.