Taxpayers are footing the bill for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s legal fees.
The New York Post and other outlets have reported that taxpayer money is paying Elkan Abramowitz, the high-powered defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who is defending the governor from allegations that he covered-up deaths from COVID at nursing homes.
Moreover, Abramowitz was hired without competitive bidding.
Some good government groups feel the governor’s use of taxpayer dollars for his own defense, is appropriate, although they acknowledge that, to taxpayers, it will be hard to digest.
“There will be times, and this is certainly one of them, when using public funds to pay for a governor's defense is tough to swallow, but taxpayers pay for public defenders for accused murders,” John Kaehny of ReInvent Albany told Capital Tonight. “Additionally, we strongly support public financing of political campaigns, and it would be inconsistent to ask a governor to raise money for a legal defense, when we don't want them to do so for a campaign.”
The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) joined ReInvent Albany in supporting the governor’s use of taxpayer money.
“Like any public official, he's entitled to the coverage of legal costs relating to his role as governor. He is presumed innocent,” according to Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG. “If convicted, however, he will be on the hook for reimbursing the taxpayers. The decision to provide such coverage should be done openly and publicly.”
Susan Lerner, executive director of New York Common Cause, would prefer the governor form a Legal Defense Fund (LDF).
“It’s a way to raise money from his donors for the stated purpose of providing him with the best lawyers money can buy, if that’s what he is looking for,” she said. “At the federal level, elected officials who run into problems, whether its campaigns or outside activities, are required to set up Legal Defense Funds.”
Lerner notes that President Clinton did.
“He went to donors and raised money specifically earmarked for his defense,” she said. “We believe that high level elected officials should be doing that in New York. And we also think there should be a structure in our campaign finance law for that.”
Currently, there is not, but Lerner says the legislature could easily remedy that.
“The Legislature could definitely take this on and require people like Governor Cuomo and various members of the legislature who’ve had investigations to raise money for their legal defense separately,” Lerner explained.