Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman apparently used almost $340,000 of political campaign funds to pay his legal fees during an investigation over his alleged abuse of women, according to the Associated Press. The prominent Democrat resigned last year after allegations of physical abuse by multiple women were made public.
This use of campaign funds isn’t illegal in New York, and is startlingly common.
“By and large, if you are an elected official, you can use your campaign contributions as a Get Out of Jail Free card,” Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told the AP.
Schneiderman’s accusers say he should have been forced to use his own money.
“That money was given in good faith by donors who expected Mr. Schneiderman to help women,” Michelle Manning Barish, a Democratic activist who says Schneiderman abused her during their relationship in 2013 told the AP. “What a luxury to be able to assault women who donated to your campaign and then use their money to defend yourself.”
Schneiderman’s legal bills apparently total $339,710, meaning that he was able to cover them entirely using campaign funds. His campaign has also spent money on an office in Manhattan and paying employees. Despite returning $1.5 million in donations, the campaign apparently still has $6.5 million to spend as of this month.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman referred to a prior statement that said the campaign is “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.
Manning Barish is asking Schneiderman’s former donors to demand he donates their money to charities that help victims of intimate partner violence.
“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,” she told AP. “That money does not belong to him.”
The law in New York allows elected officials to use campaign funds for legal bills if the issue regards their official duties. Schneiderman is able to use his funds because he was accused of using attorney general’s office staff and resources to cover up his abuse. Ironically, the law allowed him to do just that.
Activists are attempting to change the law with a bill that would require an official to shut down their campaign committee within two years of being convicted of a felony.
“The system is a scandal,” Horner told AP. “New York State’s campaign finance system is generally a scandal, and this is another example of it.”