GJC Files JCOPE Complaint Against Attorney General

The Government Justice Center today filed a complaint with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) detailing misconduct by New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood, and Special Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Eisenson and Gavin McCabe.

AG Underwood and her assistants are violating New York’s ethics law, the complaint explains, by accepting funding from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to conduct specious and speculative litigation against fossil-fuel companies, under an arrangement that began under former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The complaint can be read here.

“New York public officials are ethically obligated to follow the law and conduct state business without giving the impression of being improperly influenced by others,” said Cameron Macdonald, executive director of the Government Justice Center. “And the extraordinary powers of New York’s Attorney General, especially under New York’s unique Martin Act, are being rented to a third-party special interest.”

“We’re talking about the Office of the New York State Attorney General, one of the most powerful governmental offices in the nation, not a crash pad on airbnb. It shouldn’t be getting rented out to special interests chasing their pet issues,” Macdonald added. “Imagine if another state had a similar arrangement letting the fossil-fuel industry pay to use their attorney general’s office to fight federal clean air standards.”

Last year, the NYU School of Law launched the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, established with a $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, a non-profit controlled by Mr. Bloomberg. According to the Center, it works “with interested attorneys general to identify and hire NYU Law Fellows who serve as special assistant attorneys general in state attorney general offices, focusing on clean energy, climate and environmental matters.” The Office of the Attorney General employs Special Assistant Attorneys General Eisenson and McCabe through the Center’s fellow program.

This program, in which an outside special interest is determining a state agency’s policy directives, violates Public Officers Law §74(3)(f). This section states that “an officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should not by his or her conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or her or unduly enjoy his or her favor in the performance of his or her official duties.”