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District attorneys may face tighter campaign finance restrictions if new bill passes

February 13, 2019 Brooklyn Eagle Staff Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A bill to curb the amount of money district attorney candidates can raise from lawyers representing clients in a criminal proceeding could eliminate glaring conflicts of interest, according to its backers.

State Assemblymember Dan Quart and state Sen. Liz Krueger, both of Manhattan, proposed legislation that would limit contributions from lawyers and law firms practicing criminal law to the campaigns of individual district attorney candidates to just $320. That’s down from as much as $50,000, depending on the county’s voter registration.

As first reported by Gotham Gazette, the bill would also require the state Board of Elections to create a database of lawyers and law firms who practice criminal law, increasing transparency.

District attorneys wield tremendous power over whether or not to charge a would-be defendant with a crime and also over the development of plea deals. Under the current system, defense counsel could have donated tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over a district attorney’s career — Quart and Krueger said that creates a clear conflict of interest.

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“District Attorneys hold a singularly powerful position in our system, and therefore must be held to the highest standards to avoid potential conflicts of interest. This bill will help ensure that in New York, justice remains blind,” Krueger said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Krueger and Quart previously introduced the matching bills in the 2017-2018 legislative session, but they never made it out of committee.

Gotham Gazette reports that the bill is motivated in part by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance’s refusal to bring sexual assault charges against Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced film mogul who gave Vance’s campaign thousands of dollars. Quart is rumored to be considering a challenge to Vance in 2021.

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