Brian Benjamin, the former New York lieutenant governor who resigned in disgrace after being arrested on federal corruption charges, is nearly two months late in filing campaign finance disclosures for his scuttled and now-moot re-election bid.
The disclosure, which is required under state election rules, was due on July 15. State campaign finance records show Benjamin’s campaign hasn’t submitted it to the state Board of Elections, raising questions about how the campaign is spending contributions and whether it’s using them to pay for legal bills he’s racked up since being indicted in April.
According to the most recent disclosure Benjamin filed for his lieutenant governor campaign committee, as of January the committee had a balance of $1.5 million.
“These political contributions can be used for more than campaigning, and that’s a problem,” said John Kaehny, head of the the good government group Reinvent Albany. “It’s just a giant loophole that the state legislature refuses to close.”
Aside from being able to use the campaign cash for a legal defense fund, Kaehny noted politicians can also use it for “reputation management,” citing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s use of campaign funds after stepping down as governor a year ago.
“It’s out of control,” Kaehny said.
Benjamin, a former Harlem state senator who was tapped by Gov. Hochul to be her lieutenant governor last September, was indicted in April for allegedly lying on background check forms and steering state funds to a non-profit in exchange for fraudulent donations to a separate campaign for city comptroller, which he lost.
The 23-page indictment from prosecutors with the Southern District of New York charged Benjamin with bribery, fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records. It accused him of scheming to direct $50,000 in state funds to Friends of Public School Harlem, a nonprofit controlled by longtime ally Gerald Migdol, who sent thousands of dollars in illegal campaign cash to Benjamin’s comptroller bid.
Prosecutors also allege that Benjamin “engaged in a series of lies,” including falsifying campaign donor forms and submitting “false information in vetting forms,” a story the Daily News first reported last November.
Earlier this year, Benjamin hired Berry Berke to represent him. Berke, a partner at the Kramer Levin firm, previously represented former Mayor Bill de Blasio when he was trying to avoid corruption charges in connection to donations he raised from people who sought special treatment from City Hall. De Blasio was ultimately successful in avoiding those charges.
Benjamin did not immediately respond to calls from The News. Berke also did not return a message.