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30 Jan, 2019 02:52

Disgraced NY AG used campaign cash to defend against sex abuse claims

Disgraced NY AG used campaign cash to defend against sex abuse claims

Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman used funds from his reelection campaign to pay for his legal defense during an investigation into allegations he slapped, choked, and otherwise abused multiple women.

Schneiderman, who portrayed himself as a champion for women and gallant #MeToo supporter while in office, resigned suddenly last May, hours after reports from four women claiming he’d slapped or choked them surfaced in a New Yorker article. It was the ultimate irony for the state AG, who had filed a lawsuit seeking better compensation for the women accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and misconduct earlier that year.

Using campaign funds to pay for legal defense does not break any rules in New York, as long as it involves matters related to an elected official’s duties. Responses to the revelations – reported by AP, based on Schneiderman’s own campaign finance reports – have not been kind to the fallen prosecutor.

What a luxury to be able to assault women who donated to your campaign and then use the money to defend yourself,” said Michelle Manning Barish, a Democratic activist who accused Schneiderman of abusing her while they were dating in 2013. She was horrified to find out he’d paid for his legal defense out of the contributions of women like her, saying: “That money was given in good faith by donors who expected Mr. Schneiderman to help women.”

Schneiderman made his last payment to law firm Clayman & Rosenberg LLP in December, for a total of $339,710, a month after a special prosecutor closed the investigation without filing charges. The ex-AG did release a somewhat equivocal statement afterward, declaring he accepted “full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them.”

One could say Schneiderman got his money’s worth, dodging charges for a sum amounting to less than half his re-election committee’s spending in the eight months following his resignation. He also continued to rent a Manhattan office and pay employee wages.

Once the committee has honored all its commitments, the remaining funds will be donated to worthy and appropriate causes, consistent with the law,” a spokeswoman for Schneiderman said. The committee did refund about $1.5 million in contributions, but still has about $6.5 million in the bank. Barish called on donors to demand that the rest is given to charities for battered women and abuse survivors.

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Spending campaign cash on legal defense is almost an institution in New York politics. Both former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) spent millions of campaign dollars fighting corruption charges in recent years, though they were both eventually convicted.

The system is a scandal,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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