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Bill would have kept taxpayers from reimbursing campaign funds for criminal defense costs

ALBANY - It could have been called Joe’s law.

But on Tuesday a bill was defeated that would have prohibited taxpayers from being required to reimburse campaign committees of state officials who tapped the funds to pay for criminal defense lawyers.

The bill sought to amend a law that provides reimbursement to officials only if they are acquitted of charges.

The bill by Senate Democrats follows the case of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The upstate Republican faced two federal corruption trials before he was acquitted of charges. He received reimbursement by the state for the cost of his defense, which he paid through his campaign account and his legal defense fund.

State law allows for reimbursing officials for their own costs in defending actions they legally took as public servants. But Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) argued that should only reimburse a person for his or her direct expenses, not refill a campaign account.

The Senate investigations committee headed by Chairman Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) rejected the bill.

Bruno will be able to use his replenished campaign account to contribute to fellow Republicans to protect their razor-thin majority against a Democratic challenge in 2016.

“The idea is someone shouldn’t be hurt financially for charges that don’t stick,” Gianaris said of current law. “But what does the campaign have to do with that? The campaign was not harmed by the charges.”

Gianaris then took aim at the Republican majority that opposes the Democrats’ priority of using public money to fund campaigns as a way to limit the influence of big-money donors.

“It seems the only form of public financing of campaigns Republicans support are for those accused of crimes,” Gianaris said.

Currently, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) are facing federal investigations.

The Senate’s Republican majority had no immediate comment.


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