New York’s notoriously weak campaign finance laws were highlighted this week as disclosure reports revealed that former Assemblyman Carl Kruger used nearly $1.4 million from his campaign funds to pay for his legal defense against federal corruption charges. While other states require that candidates set up a legal defense fund, New York allow candidates to use cash from campaign funds pay attorney’s fees.
Susan Lerner from Common Cause/NY notes that “when contributors give to a candidate, they want to support the candidate in his election campaign — not pay for his defense against fraud charges.”
Our former colleague, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, has pointed out that lawmakers have taken advantage New York’s laws by using campaign funds to pay for cars, cell phones, country clubs, sporting events tickets, legal bills, meals and even pet food.
Senator Liz Krueger introduced a bill last year that would address the misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes. Among other restrictions, S3053 would forbid the use campaign funds to “pay attorney’s fees or any costs of defending against any civil or criminal investigation or prosecution for alleged violations of state or federal law.”
Of course, this incident highlights only one of the many problems with our state’s campaign finance laws and we hope that it will be among those addressed when the promised campaign finance bill is introduced.