New York politicians who face allegations of wrongdoing have been tapping a financial wellspring to pay legal fees: campaign funds. The New York Times found that 41 elected officials who have been connected to a scandal or investigation since 2005 have spent at least $7 million of campaign funds on legal fees, based on a review of Board of Elections filings from 2005 to the present. The recent rash of arrests and convictions of Albany lawmakers has intensified the practice: Since mid-January, state lawmakers either accused of wrongdoing or simply caught up in a broader scandal have spent at least $1.9 million in campaign funds to cover their legal fees.
State election laws require that the funds be used for a lawful purpose, and that they be related to a “political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.” Lawmakers typically argue that the nature and requirement of their jobs place them in situations where they are legally vulnerable, so their legal bills should be covered by their campaigns. The campaign of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has spent more than $1.5 million this year alone to pay for lawyers. “Campaign funds should not be used to keep someone out of jail,” said an official with Common Cause New York.