Silver spends more to resist corruption commission

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Sheldon Silver. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
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ALBANY—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will spend another $300,000 of public money to assist several law firms—including the one that employs him—as they fight subpoenas from a state anti-corruption panel, state records show.

The heavily Democratic Assembly, where Silver has been speaker for 20 years, upped its contract with the firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman from $55,000 to $355,000 last week.

An amendment was processed by the state comptroller's office on Thursday, the day before the latest round of papers were due in the ongoing legal battle between legislative employers and the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which Governor Andrew Cuomo convened in July. The commission has issued 20 new subpoenas last month in connection with reimbursement from campaign accounts, a source told the Wall Street Journal

The commission last year subpoenaed records from 30 businesses that pay legislators, saying the outside employment of legislators creates a “risk of criminal behavior” because their work product is often intangible. Legislators have argued the commission—which does not have a separate budget line—exist to simply browbeat them in negotiations with Cuomo. On Friday, legislative leaders argued the subpoenas should be quashed because it is an “usurpation” of their constitutional lawmaking powers.

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“While the Moreland Commission is conducting an illegitimate fishing expedition, we're going to retain counsel,” said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland. “It's costing the state a lot of money, too.”

Kasowitz's firm is working in conjunction with lawyers for the Senate Republican conference as well as its Independent Democratic Conference, who control the chamber in a coalition. Republicans have paid at least $50,000 to Kirkland & Ellis, where former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia is the lead attorney. The IDC would not say how much it has paid Loeb & Loeb, which represents it in the case against the commission.

The commissioners did not subpoena the legislative leaders; they were granted status as "intervenors" in the challenges brought by the private law firms.