Eric Schneiderman, the former New York attorney general who resigned after multiple allegations of physically abusing women, used nearly $340,000 in political campaign funds to pay the law firm that represented him.
Schneiderman's reelection committee, Schneiderman 2018, started paying the Clayman & Rosenberg LLP law firm the week after he abruptly resigned from office last May, according to records reviewed by Associated Press. The New York Democrat made his last payment on Dec. 7, a month after a special prosecutor decided not to file charges and closed the investigation.
Schneiderman, a Democrat and nemesis of President Donald Trump, announced his resignation hours after The New Yorker published an expose saying four women had accused him of slapping or choking them. Some said Schneiderman was a heavy drinker.
The allegations tarnished Schneiderman’s reputation as a defender of women an supporter of the #MeToo movement. Months before he left office, he filed a lawsuit aimed at securing better compensation for movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct accusers.
Michelle Manning Barish, a Democratic activist and writer who accused Schneiderman of abusing her when they dated in 2013, said he should have been forced to pay his lawyers out of his own pocket.
"That money was given in good faith by donors who expected Mr. Schneiderman to help women," Manning Barish said. "What a luxury to be able to assault women who donated to your campaign and then use their money to defend yourself."
Schneiderman's personal legal bills amounted to $339,710, which accounted for almost half of his reelection committee’s spending in the eight months since he abruptly resigned from office. His records also show he was paying rent on a Manhattan office and wages for a few employees. His reelection committee refunded about $1.5 million in contributions since his resignation, including $5,000 to singer and actress Bette Midler. His committee still has $6.5 million as of mid-January.
Schneiderman's spokeswoman, when asked for comment, referred the AP to a prior statement about the campaign "honoring its commitments and paying bills in accordance with applicable law and precedent."
"Once the committee has honored all its commitments, the remaining funds will be donated to worthy and appropriate causes, consistent with the law," the statement said.
Barish encouraged Schneiderman's donors to demand he donate all remaining funds to charities that help victims experiencing violence and sexual abuse from their partners.
"Mr. Schneiderman is obviously incapable of doing what is morally right on his own, so I am asking that the people demand he donate those campaign funds to help women," Barish said. "That money does not belong to him."
After the special prosecutor closed the investigation, Schneiderman released a statement saying, "I accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them."
Advocates seek to overhaul New York's campaign finance system, the AP reported. Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, called the system a "scandal."
Spending campaign cash on personal legal bills is a tried-and-true tradition in New York politics. Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have each spent millions of dollars from their campaign war chests fighting corruption charges in recent years. Both were convicted.
Under the law, elected officials are allowed to pass legal costs onto a campaign when they involve matters touching on their official duties. In Schneiderman’s case, part of the investigation looked at whether he used attorney general’s office staff and resources to facilitate or cover up his abuse.
Advocates for change are looking to the new Democratic majority in the state legislature to tighten the rules on campaign spending. One bill would force a politician to close down a campaign committee within two years of being convicted of a felony.