Assemb. Charles Lavine, a Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive, announced legislation Monday to prohibit political candidates or elected officials who are under federal indictment from using campaign funds to pay criminal defense costs.
The bill comes after officials, including Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who were arrested in federal corruption cases, tapped their campaign funds to pay for their defense, as is allowed by law.
Lavine (D-Glen Cove), speaking at a news conference in Mineola, said the practice of using campaign funds for legal defense costs was “a bait and switch” on taxpayers.
“When our citizens contribute to a political campaign, the obvious intent is to help the person running for office or in office to be elected,” Lavine said. “It is not their intent in making these contributions or donation to help keep political officeholders or candidates out of prison.”
Lavine introduced a similar bill in February that also would cover civil matters and cases heard in county and state court.
Since 2015, Mangano has paid $330,000 in campaign funds to Kevin Keating, his Garden City criminal defense attorney. The payments included $200,000 from Mangano five days after his arrest in October on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud, extortion and obstruction of justice, state Board of Elections records show.
Prosecutors say Mangano received bribes and kickbacks from a local restaurateur in exchange for benefits including a county contract. Former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and Mangano’s wife, Linda, were also charged in the case. All have pleaded not guilty. Mangano has yet to say whether he will seek a third term.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, who each were convicted in separate federal corruption trials in 2015, also used campaign accounts to fund their defense. Silver spent $2.9 million from his campaign account on legal fees, while Skelos spent $760,000 to pay his defense team, records show.
“Chuck Lavine is a fraud,” Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said in an emailed statement. “As Assembly Ethics Chairman, Chuck Lavine sat silent as convicted Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spent $2.96 million in campaign funds on legal fees and now introduces legislation as political cover while running for county executive.”
A 2013 report from the nonprofit New York Public Interest Research Group found that state lawmakers had spent nearly $7 million in campaign funds on criminal defense lawyers since 2004. That figure, officials said, has grown considerably in the past four years.
“It’s important that campaign contributions be used for campaigning, not legal defense funds,” said Blair Horner, NYPIRG’s executive director.
A state Senate version of Lavine’s bill is co-sponsored by Sens. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).
A Senate Republican spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the measure.
Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) and County Comptroller George Maragos also are seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive.