By LOUIS FLORES
States' attorneys general are now being openly targeted by lobbyists in an effort to quash investigations of corporations, according to an explosive report published by The New York Times.
Some lobbyists are said to be using "campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push" attorneys general to "drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators," the report indicated.
Attorneys general for several states, including Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Washington, were successfully persuaded by lobbyists to take action to benefit the lobbyists' corporate clients, according to the report. However, there was no mention about the close relationship of New York's top state prosecutor to lobbyists.
Attorney General Eric Schniederman (D-NY) has been being lobbied by his ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, who had previously served as a key campaign consultant to Attorney General Schneiderman. For months, Attorney General Schneiderman had at first refused to release any e-mail communications between his office and Ms. Cunningham, then, under pressure, the attorney general released some e-mails, but not all, claiming a privilege to withhold some communication where, in some instances, Ms. Cunningham had advised his office in a capacity that was analogous to that of a state employee, an assertion that some government reform activists found difficult to believe. Whereas The New York Times looked at the role of lobbyists being able to sway various states' attorneys general, no scrutiny was paid to whether Attorney General Schneiderman has been similarly influenced.
As Progress Queens has previously reported, serious questions exist as to why state prosecutors have not prosecuted anybody for wrong-doing in connection with the Aqueduct Racino bid-rigging scandal, the unaccounted-for grants totaling $500,000 that were made to the Corona-Elmhurst Center for Economic Development, and the city's troubled Emergency Communications Transformation Program that is intended to upgrade the 911 emergency call system.
The Aqueduct scandal involved prominent lobbyists, including Hank Scheinkopf and Frank Sanzillo ; the Center for Economic Development controversy involved the powerful consultant, Luis Miranda ; and the ECTP affair involved the influential lobbyist, George Arzt. Since the state attorney general and local district attorneys must run for public office, all of the state's top prosecutors must rely on corruptive influence of campaign consultants and campaign donors to win elected office. Once a prosecutor relies on the advice of campaign consultants, that opens the door to potential lobbying, because, in New York, campaign consultants often double as lobbyists. For example, Ms. Cunningham, Mr. Scheinkopf, and Mr. Arzt each act as campaign lobbyists and have done or can also do lobbying work.
Ms. Cunningham has worked on the campaigns for each of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and A.G. Schneiderman, and that Mr. Sheinkopf has worked for the state Democratic Party committee, which Gov. Cuomo directs. The relationship between some of the state's top lobbyists to Gov. Cuomo may place them into an untouchable class.
Some government reform activists have asserted that a local district attorney would be committing career suicide if a local district attorney ever investigated a powerful campaign consultant with ties to some of the state's top elected officials. The state's top elected officials help direct the resources of the state's Democratic Party. As state prosecutors worry about running for office, the last thing they would want to do is to upset those who control electoral resources. Such are some of the corrupting pressures of campaign consultants and the need to raise money that local district attorneys must confront if they wish to run for office.
Another aspect of political pressure that local district attorneys face is that they must run for office with the consent of the county Democratic Party committee, a structure that allows the state's top elected officials, notably the governor, to exert some sway.
The report in The New York Times noted the role of the law firm Dickstein Shaprio in lobbying states' attorneys general. The law firm donated $7,500 to Gov. Cuomo in the time leading up to his 2010 run for governor, according to online records posted by the New York State Board of Elections, the state's campaign finance regulatory authority. The same law firm donated $2,500 to Attorney General Schneiderman's first campaign committee for attorney general and has donated a further $10,000 to Attorney General Schneiderman's reelection campaign committee in this year's election cycle, according to state campaign finance records.
The report in The New York Times failed to examine whether local district attorneys also fell prey to lobbyists and other outside pressures. Progress Queens has been asking the district attorneys for Manhattan and Queens why do their offices fail to prosecute corporate and political or campaign corruption, but prosecutors hide behind office policies that forbid them to discuss any investigation.
This article was supplemented to include updated campaign finance information pertaining to Dickstein Shapiro.