Democrat Tom Suozzi’s campaign is raising questions about who has paid his Republican opponent’s campaign consultant and attorneys.
Campaign finance records for state Sen. Jack Martins, the GOP nominee for the 3rd Congressional District, do not show any payments to E. O’Brien Murray, his chief campaign strategist, or the law firms that represented him in federal court as he sought to avoid a Republican primary against Philip Pidot.
Aides for Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, say the legal fees should have cost Martins thousands of dollars.
Kim Devlin, Suozzi’s strategist, said the payments’ absence reflect poorly on the transparency of Martins’ campaign.
“Maybe in Albany it’s business as usual to skirt campaign finance law and conduct business under the table, but Jack Martins’ congressional campaign filings don’t pass the smell test,” Devlin said in an email.
Martins employed three law firms as his fight with Pidot wound its way through state and federal court.
Murray, who worked on Martins’ 2014 state Senate campaign, has served as the congressional campaign’s chief strategist and spokesman since Martins declared his candidacy in January.
Asked on multiple occasions about the campaign’s legal expenses and his consulting fees, Murray said they are “in the filings.”
He would not specify which filings contain records of the expenditures.
“Tom Suozzi’s campaign got caught forging hundreds of voters’ signatures, including dead people, and had one of their staffers plead the Fifth when questioned about it in court. We won’t be taking any advice from them,” Murray wrote in an email. “Everything was reported.”
Campaign spending records show the National Republican Campaign Committee paid the law firms that represented Martins in federal court, indicating it helped him avoid a primary in the race to replace Rep. Steve Israel.
But Murray’s name only appears on one $179 payment from the federal arm of the New York Republican State Committee.
Martins’ campaign paid $5,000 in June to Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina, the Central Islip law firm that represented him as he challenged Pidot’s candidacy in state court.
Martins’ campaign does not list payments to DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian of Albany or Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky of Washington, D.C., the firms that represented Martins in federal court when a judge first ordered a special primary with Pidot and when Martins successfully appealed to cancel it.
But campaign finance filings show the NRCC paid Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky $12,000 on Aug. 18, the day attorney Jason Torchinsky was first named as an attorney for Martins in federal court filings.
The committee paid the firm another $8,000 on Sept. 30, the last day Torchinsky made a filing on Martins’ behalf in federal court.
FEC rules do not require the NRCC to list that the payments were on Martins’ behalf, or require Martins’ filing to reflect them.
An FEC advisory opinion from 1996 says party committees’ payments for legal expenses in a fight over a party nomination do not qualify as contributions as long as they come from a separate fund that is not maintained by the candidate.
The payments are not subject to limits on contributions and would be listed as operating expenditures by the committee making them, said one campaign finance expert who asked not to be identified.
Holtzman Vogel was also paid a total of $187,804.51 in three payments on Aug. 18, Sept. 21 and Sept. 30 for legal work related to election recounts, NRCC filings show.
DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian also received from the NRCC $12,851.45 for recount work on Aug. 30.
The NRCC says it uses Holtzman Vogel for legal work around the country and DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian for close races in New York.
Chris Pack, an NRCC spokesman, rejected the Suozzi campaign’s suggestion that Martins’ filings were out of line with campaign finance law.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by Tom Suozzi to distract from his record of raising taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars and accepting a $65,000 taxpayer-funded pay raise,” Pack wrote in an email.
Suozzi got involved in the federal court case and was represented by Washington-based Perkins Coie. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also paid the firm for recount legal work.
Suozzi’s campaign paid $10,000 to Perkins Coie on Aug. 24 and has not yet been billed for the rest of its work, expected to cost between $30,000 and $50,000, Devlin said.
Murray raised questions about who paid Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Pidot’s Manhattan law firm, suggesting that the DCCC funded Pidot’s legal battle “to keep things tied up in court on Suozzi’s behalf.”
Devlin called Murray’s and Pack’s statements “deflection” and “hypocritical.”
Court filings show the Stroock firm billed Pidot for more than $100,000. Pidot’s last financial filing does not show any payments to the firm, and neither do the DCCC’s filings for August and September.
Murray is not listed as a recipient of any payments on any of Martins’ campaign finance filings.
His name is listed only once in FEC filings dating back to January for the NRCC and the New York State GOP’s federal campaign committee. The state GOP paid him $179.85 on Aug. 19 for office equipment.
Murray also ran Chris McGrath’s unsuccessful Republican state Senate campaign this spring to replace Sen. Dean Skelos, a Rockville Centre Republican who lost his seat upon his conviction last year on corruption charges.
The state GOP paid Murray a total of $60,000 in April and May for consulting services, according to state campaign finance records. He also received $24,161.36 in reimbursements from McGrath’s campaign.
Suozzi’s campaign has paid Devlin $14,000 in consulting fees and $2,197 in reimbursements, federal campaign finance filings show.
Mike Florio, Suozzi’s campaign manager, has received $49,998 in wages and $25,121.39 in reimbursements.