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Gov. Cuomo using campaign funds for legal fees
ALBANY - As a top U.S. attorney investigates the now-disbanded Moreland Commission, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office says it will use campaign money to pay for any legal fees.
Cuomo has $35 million in his campaign war chest and the governor's office says using some of this money will save taxpayers from footing the bill.
But legislation being tossed around in the Senate would make the use of campaign money on expenses outside of a politician's campaign illegal. More than a dozen Senate Democrats have co-sponsered the bill.
New York Public Interest Research Group Legislative Director Blair Horner is in support of this type of legislation.
"Many elected officials that get into trouble use their campaign funds to pay for legal expenses. Again, we don't think that's right. We think that they should be prohibited from doing it, we've supported bills to do that," Horner said.
But Horner says any proposed laws should not restrict the ability of politicians to use campaign funds to pay for all types of legal counsel.
"So if you're involved in litigation, challenging your ballot petitions for example and that's part of your campaign, that makes sense then you can use your campaign contributions. But if you're involved in some other activity that has nothing to do with your campaign and you're using your campaign dollars to defend yourself, we think that's inappropriate," Horner said.
Horner also says if a politician is acquitted of any wrong doing then the taxpayers should pay for legal counsel.
"If they lose it should come out of their pocket and if they win the taxpayers pay for it," Horner said.
Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin says that burden should not fall on taxpayers and that in this case using campaign contributions to pay for legal counsel is ironically appropriate.
"He's using the donors money to defend himself against the charges of corruption based on the donors money," McLaughlin said.
We reached out to several top Democrats to comment on this case specifically but we were not able to get anyone on camera.
However, a source close to the Senate tells us this legislation would not necessarily stop campaign funds from being used to retain a lawyer as long as criminal charges are not filed.
There is no word on how much money Cuomo's office has spent on legal counsel during the federal investigation so far.