Lots of news involving Republican New York State Senator John Flanagan, who represents the residents of the Comsewogue School District. First, Flanagan stated that if too many people opt-out we will lose federal funding…
ALBANY — A veteran Long Island state senator voted on a host of bills that benefited clients of a law firm for which he works, the Daily News has learned.
In addition to being a longtime state lawmaker who chairs the Senate Education Committee, John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) is “of counsel” at Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana in Uniondale, where he reported making between $100,000 and $150,000 in 2013.
A number of the clients listed on the law firm’s website have business before the state, including Cablevision, Chase Bank, and Citibank.
The firm also lists as clients different colleges, governments and other groups with matters before the state.
The crossroad between the outside income of lawmakers and their public duties has been a hot-button issue in recent months in scandal-scarred Albany. Gov. Cuomo and other critics complain that many lawmakers who are also lawyers are making big money at firms without having to disclose exactly what they do to earn it.
Government reform advocates say there is at the very least an appearance of a conflict of interest that should have led Flanagan to either recuse himself from votes impacting clients of his law firm or publicly disclose the ties.
“There should be a desire to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and undue influence,” said Susan Lerner, of Common Cause/New York.
In a number of cases, Flanagan voted in favor of bills on which public records show clients of his law firm had lobbied.
Cablevision, for instance, reported as having lobbied on at least six bills since 2011 that Flanagan voted for, records show. One sought to exempt electronic news sources and periodicals from sales and compensating taxes, while others had to to do with ticket scalping.
Another half-dozen bills that Flanagan supported were sought by Chase Bank.
In a statement released by his Senate office, Flanagan said he did not represent any company with business before the state.
“These are clients of the firm and I have no involvement with them,” the senator said.
But one critic argued that when lawmakers don’t disclose their specific clients, “it actually means they are responsible for all the clients in the firm.”
A law firm spokeswoman had no comment.
Flanagan’s biography on the law firm’s website highlights no legal accomplishments, focusing almost exclusively on his legislative background. It lists his legal practice areas as municipal and real estate.
Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said Flanagan should have vetted any potential conflicts with the Legislative Ethics Commission and received an opinion on how to deal with them.
A Flanagan spokesman would not say whether that was done.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been aggressively investigating the issue of lawmakers’ outside income and the nexus between their public offices and private employment. And Cuomo is pushing legislation to require full disclosure of outside income and clients.
Bharara recently charged now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with using his public office to help pad his pockets through two law firms.
Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) is reportedly also under investigation by Bharara over his outside income.
Skelos made as much as $250,000 in 2013 serving as “of counsel” at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.
That law firm not only has clients with business before the state, but also has a government lobbying component.
Skelos has said he does not personally represent anyone with business before the state and has no connection to the firm’s lobbying arm.
Horner argued the inherent potential conflicts of working for firms whose clients have business before the state is why lawmaker income should be capped, an issue Cuomo has raised.
“It’s the problem of serving two masters,” Horner said.