By LOUIS FLORES
Repercussions continue to unfold following the publication of a report in The New York Times documenting a pattern of corporate lobbying of states' attorneys general that have successfully thwarted criminal investigations.
One of the attorneys general named in the report was Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R-FL). The report questioned Attorney General Bondi's ethics for having received nearly $25,000 worth of travel and entertainment indirectly paid for by corporate donors that had contributed to the Republican Attorneys General Association. The Republican association and its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, are vehicles that can act to indirectly funnel corporate donations to financially benefit states' attorneys general.
At a campaign stop that took place on the same day as The New York Times published its report, Attorney General Bondi defended her record against questions from a reporter of The Palm Beach Post, saying, "No lobbyist will ever affect a decision I make regarding the citizens of the state of Florida."
Many corporations facing investigations from states' attorneys general have hired the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro. As reported by Progress Queens, Dickstein Shapiro has been a campaign contributor to both Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-NY). However, Attorney General Schneiderman inexplicably escaped scrutiny in The New York Times report.
Besides having received campaign contributions directly from Dickstein Sharpiro, Attorney General Schneiderman in investigating one of Dickstein Shapiro's corporate clients. The state's top prosecutor has launched an investigation of Herbalife over allegations of fraud, amongst other complaints, according to press reports. To defend itself against possible investigations, Herbalife retained the law firm of Dickstein Shaprio. According to statistics published by The New York Post, Herbalife made $40,000 in contributions to the Democratic Attorneys General Association in 2012 and 2013, raising questions whether Herbalife was trying to curry favour with states' attorneys general, including New York's top state prosecutor.
In a move that The New York Post described as having "raised the stakes" of Herbalife's lobbying of Attorney General Schneiderman, Herbalife retained the powerful consulting firm, SKD Knickerbocker, where Attorney General Schneiderman's ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, is a key consultant. At the time, Herbalife denied that Ms. Cunningham would work on its account at SKD Knickerbocker, and Herbalife further disclosed that SKD Knickerbocker would not communicate on its behalf with states' attorneys general or elected officials, according to The New York Post report. What SKD Knickerbocker is really getting paid for is not clear.
For months, Attorney General Schneiderman refused to respond to a public records request filed by the conservative business publication, Crain's, which sought e-mail communications between the Attorney General's Office and Ms. Cunningham. Under pressure, Attorney General Schneiderman release some records, but he withheld others, claiming privilege normally accorded to internal discussions of government employees, a rationale that Crain's reported as incredulous, given that Ms. Cunningham is not a state employee. Ms. Cunningham has provided campaign consulting services to her ex-husband, and she advises him in his capacity as Attorney General.
Attorney General Schneiderman is running for reelection to his post when voters go to the polls on Tuesday. Government reform activists question why Attorney General Schneiderman remained mum as Gov. Cuomo disbanded a corruption-fighting panel that was investigating, amongst other issues, the corrupting influence of corporate donors to campaign committees of Albany officials. Attorney General Schneiderman had a special relationship to the commissioners serving on the corruption-fighting panel, as he had deputized them. Some government reform activists look to the reports in The New York Times, The New York Post, and Crain's for insight into the backroom machinations that decide which prosecutorial investigations of corporate corruption slowly fizzle out of sight from voters.
Meanwhile, in Florida, lobbyists were able to dissuade Attorney General Bondi from investigating Accretive Health, a hospital bill collector ; Bridgepoint Education, an online school ; and Herbalife -- at the same time when those lobbyists were helping to further Attorney General Bondi's political ambitions, raising the specter of official misconduct.