Times Union | December 4, 2019 | Chris Bragg
ALBANY — New York’s ethics watchdog agency has dropped its investigation into whether an alleged rape victim violated lobbying laws as she pushed for passage of the Child Victims Act.
In a letter that the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics sent to Kat Sullivan on Wednesday, general counsel Monica Stamm wrote that Sullivan had shown an “outright contempt for the law as demonstrated by … increasingly defiant and profane emails” to JCOPE officials. Stamm wrote that the law “supports a finding of a knowing and willful failure to file required reports and could subject you to substantial civil and criminal penalties.”
But in concluding the five-page letter, which lays out what JCOPE says is substantial evidence that Sullivan exceeded the $5,000 spending threshold that requires registration as a lobbyist in New York, Stamm wrote that the panel would not take further action.
“Notwithstanding your conduct, in a case such as this, the Commission can act through guidance and further regulatory clarification, or through continued investigation and enforcement,” Stamm wrote. “The Commission has elected to issue this guidance letter and to review the regulations in the coming months; it will not be taking any further action against you regarding your attempts to influence the CVA.”
The regulations referenced by Stamm relate to “grassroots lobbying” efforts, which JCOPE officials alleged Sullivan had violated.
“JCOPE owes me an apology and instead they are saying that it’s my fault,” Sullivan told the Times Union in a Wednesday email. “This is a victory for us, but JCOPE broke laws and harassed me, causing incredible disruption and stress in my life. It’s like JCOPE ran me over using a state-owned vehicle and I was injured. This letter is them blaming me for them running over me! And they’re promising to do it again if I use my First Amendment rights.”
Sullivan, who has said she was raped by one of her teachers at Troy’s Emma Willard School more than two decades ago, spent a portion of a 2016 settlement she reached with the school to advocate last year for the passage of the Child Victims Act. That effort included high-profile signage — on billboards and a banner towed behind a small plane that flew over the Capitol — urging the Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to pass the legislation.
The Child Victims Act — which finally passed this year after a decade-long battle — opened a one-year period for victims of past child sexual abuse to file claims that had previously been blocked by the statute of limitations.
JCOPE first contacted Sullivan in June 2018. Two months ago, Sullivan filed a lawsuit against JCOPE, arguing that she never conducted lobby work and that the law under which she was being pursued is unconstitutional.
Sullivan has said she was working on her own to raise awareness of the issue, and that she did not stand to personally benefit financially from the law’s passage. She argued she should not be subject to the extensive requirements imposed by JCOPE on professional lobbyists.
Sullivan was represented in her lawsuit against JCOPE by the Government Justice Center, a conservative-leaning Albany-based nonprofit that pursues pro bono litigation on behalf of New Yorkers being targeted by the government.
Sullivan launched a fiery counterattack against JCOPE in recent months: In addition to the lawsuit, she took out new billboard ads on Interstate 787 targeting JCOPE’s chairman, and led a protest in front of JCOPE’s office in Albany that featured female supporters in costumes inspired by Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
JCOPE’s letter to Sullivan also quoted from emails and messages Sullivan had sent in recent months attacking JCOPE staff and commissioners with abundant profanities. The letter stated that such “defiant and profane” language itself “supports a finding of a knowing and willful failure to file required reports.”
Sullivan also sent a letter to Cuomo — who appoints six of the 14 JCOPE commissioners — describing her situation. The governor never responded, but in October his spokeswoman told the Times Union there were “greater matters that JCOPE should be focused on.” State legislators also weighed in to criticize JCOPE’s pursuit of Sullivan.
Also Wednesday, JCOPE announced it had reached a $25,000 settlement with L&M Development Partners, a real estate development firm, for spending more than $5,000 on lobbying without registering.
It’s a different result than Sullivan’s case, but concerned the same law. “Importantly, as the Commission has stated repeatedly, the Lobbying Act covers all lobbying activity, regardless of who engages in the conduct; it does not turn on whether a party views itself as a lobbyist,” JCOPE said in announcing the settlement.
Sullivan said she will be at JCOPE’s next meeting on Dec. 17 and “there will be a plane in the air.”
“JCOPE needs to be put down,” she added. “Cuomo’s ethics dog is clearly rabid and I’m not going to let it bite anyone else.”