Describing himself as “outraged” that public funds totalling more than $2 million were used to pay an ex-state senator’s legal bill recently, state Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced legislation to end the arrangement.
“It is sadly typical in the upside-down world of Albany that public financing for campaign committees only exists for those accused of crimes,” Gianaris stated as he introduced his legislation over-riding the existing law.
The Astoria lawmaker added: “This multimillion dollar payout is a glaring example of the desperate need to reform New York State election law, and we need to close this loophole immediately.”
Gianaris (D–Western Queens) said that just last week, the attorney general’s office was forced by statute to approve reimbursing former state Senator Joseph Bruno’s “long dormant” campaign committee to the tune of $1.51 million for legal fees accrued in defense of corruption and bribery charges.
In addition, Gianaris recounted, the state must reimburse a legal defense fund Bruno created in 2009 for an additional $564,547.
As of now, state employees are entitled to reimbursement for legal defense if the charges in question arose from their official duties and are subsequently dropped or the accused is acquitted.
Senator Gianaris’ bill would change current law so that neither campaign committees nor legal defense funds would be eligible for reimbursement, thus preventing any future payouts similar to the Bruno case.
Gianaris said the proposed bill would also require that any legal defense funds raised be utilized in full before any public reimbursement takes place, in order to insure that public funds are protected. Gianaris has long been a leading advocate for ethics reform and election law reform in particular, and believes this loophole needs to be closed immediately.