Private Jets and Lobbyist Dance Parties: How Letitia James Uses Campaign Funds To Live the High Life

New York's attorney general has come under fire for misusing campaign funds

New York attorney general Letitia James (C) with Gov. Kathy Hochul (R) at the 2022 Somos conference (Twitter).
March 5, 2024

New York attorney general Letitia James has used her campaign war chest to finance a life of luxury, a Washington Free Beacon review of state records reveals.

Campaign finance records show that James has pulled over $310,000 from her campaign since her 2018 election to purchase stays at luxury hotels across the country and host "political meetings" at swanky New York City restaurants. But the largest chunk of James’s extracurricular campaign spending has gone to finance her annual excursion to a Puerto Rican junket the New York Times calls a "most unusual gathering" of New York politicos.

Each year, the nonprofit Somos—whose stated mission is to "address problems of the Hispanic community"—hosts a conference in San Juan. At the Somos conference, which is sponsored by companies with business before the New York state government, James rubs shoulders with New York’s political elite and dances at exclusive roped-off parties hosted by public sector unions. Since November 2018, James’s campaign has forked over $32,000 to finance her stays at ritzy Puerto Rican hotels as part of her participation in the Somos conference.

New York state Sen. Julia Salazar (D.) told the New York Times in 2019 that her first visit to the Somos conference made her uneasy. "It’s basically Albany transplanted to San Juan except with, remarkably, more lobbyists," Salazar said. "The experience for me was just being bombarded by lobbyists and feeling pressure to party with them, which I wasn’t thrilled to do."

James, however, had no problem letting loose at the 2019 Somos conference. She was spotted dancing atop a platform at an exclusive party hosted by a New York City public employee union as a gathering of lobbyists swayed to the beat nearby, the New York Times reported.

It’s common practice among New York politicians to use campaign funds to pay their way to the annual junket, the outlet reported. And thanks to New York law that lets politicians use campaign funds to "assist in the execution or performance of the duties" of their office, James’s campaign spending appears to be above board.

But James has repeatedly come under fire for her campaign spending. In 2001, during her failed campaign for a seat on the New York City Council, James was assessed a $29,000 penalty for misusing public funds for her primary election. James appealed the fine in October 2003, which the New York City Campaign Finance Board rejected.

James faced scrutiny again in 2018 for spending $36,000 in campaign funds with Brooklyn hairstylist Iyesata Marsh. The James campaign told the Wall Street Journal in 2018 that Marsh never styled James’s hair and instead worked as an event manager for the then-candidate.

James did not respond to a request for comment.

Other notable expenditures from James’s campaign include a $12,000 payment to Venture Jets, a private jet service provider, a nearly $2,000 payment at a Brooklyn diner in November 2020 to host a "meeting with elected officials," $4,600 for house rentals in Martha’s Vineyard in August 2021 and 2022, $278 for a fundraising event at the Patrick Steakhouse in Brooklyn in October 2021, and $3,300 at the Junior’s cheesecake restaurant across five visits from December 2019 through April 2023.

Scrutiny of James’s campaign spending comes after she secured a $355 million fine against former president Donald Trump in a civil case alleging he overstated his net worth to dupe bankers into lending him funds. Trump said his financial statements were "perfect," and that James "manufactured" the charges to "pursue a political agenda."