State Sen. Eric Schneiderman is pumping up his campaign with $450,000 in personal funds as he pushes to win Tuesday’s five-way Democratic primary for attorney general against opponents who are treating him like the front-runner.
They sniped during final debates this week at his financial disclosures and ethics reform plans, while the New York Post on Thursday faulted his endorsement by the Rev. Al Sharpton and his “embrace” of the controversial activist.
Nassau County prosecutor Kathleen Rice, while saying she trails the other candidates in personal wealth, has reported many last-minute donations and has raised nearly $5 million overall in campaign contributions.
“I’m probably the only one in the race who’s not a millionaire,” Rice said. “It matters to this extent. If you’re going to use your personal fortune to bankroll your campaign, the public has a right to know where that money’s coming from.”
All filed disclosure reports required by the state Commission on Public Integrity, though investment amounts are redacted from public documents. Starting with Rice, who reported $150,000 in salary and $2,000 of other income last year, most have separately released their 2009 tax returns.
All but Rice showed investments such as mutual funds, stock index funds and stocks.
Schneiderman, a legislator for 12 years, reported almost $97,000 in salary from the state and $13,000 in dividends last year. He acknowledged in Wednesday’s debate having made “a lot of money doing complex litigation” as a partner in a big firm, adding he stopped that nine or 10 years ago. “My sense was that, not that there were legal conflicts, but that it was something that I just felt inappropriate,” he said.
Schneiderman said he introduced legislation to require lawmakers, including trial lawyers, to disclose clients, which current state law does not require. He has denied that a growing list of endorsements from unions and elected officials would prevent him from doing the attorney general’s job, saying he cast legislative votes they didn’t always like.
Eric Dinallo, former state insurance superintendent and assistant attorney general, questioned how Schneiderman could go back and investigate the Senate, where he was a leader and helped put in place the current leadership that also supports him. “That’s a legal prohibition. It’s a conflict of interest.”
Schneiderman disagreed, saying Dinallo was wrong on the law. “Unless there’s a personal conflict, some matter that I was personally involved in, there’s no prohibition. “
Dinallo, who for three years was managing director and global head of regulatory affairs for Morgan Stanley, reported along with his wife almost $328,000 in salary last year, $15,000 in dividends, more than $8,000 in interest and $61,000 in business income.
Attorney Sean Coffey, a former naval aviator, corporate attorney and shareholders’ trial attorney who retired last year, and his wife reported $4.9 million of 2009 income listed under rental real estate, royalties, partnerships, S corporations, trusts, etc., plus $39,000 from interest and $138,000 from dividends.
Coffey, endorsed by the New York Post, said in largely self-funding his campaign and as an outsider he’s not beholden to vested interests. He added $1 million on Aug. 30 and another $100,000 on Tuesday and again Thursday. He said Schneiderman “caved to the trial bar” in the ethics bill lawmakers actually approved that exempted lawyer legislators from disclosing all their clients.
Schneiderman said he never heard a word from Coffey in Albany about reform until this campaign, and that Coffey had previously given campaign contributions to state officials around the country that his law firm did business with.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a longtime legislator and Westchester attorney with a private practice, said he is not a millionaire. “In these debates I’ve tried to have a conversation about things that matter in the daily lives of New Yorkers,” he said.
Brodsky aimed his question at Rice, who had appeared to be the initial front-runner, about what she’d do concerning non-criminal justice issues. She said the issues are about protecting families.
A statewide Quinnipiac poll in late July showed most New Yorkers had no idea who they wanted for attorney general or who was running.
“It’s flip a coin as far as picking,” said Quinnipiac poll’s Maurice Carroll, though TV ads are starting to appear. “These are all solid citizens and they’re all good. … This is an election where it’s going to be decided by who works to get people out.”
The Marist poll’s Lee Miringoff said with low turnouts expected and candidates not widely knowm, it appears to be wide open. He said the current conventional wisdom favoring Schneiderman may just be the inference from political pundits talking to each other. He also doubted that an endorsement from Sharpton would be politically damaging unless accompanied by “significantly targeted media messaging” that candidates can’t afford right now.
By MICHAEL VIRTANEN,Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.