MANHATTAN (CN) – Resuming campaign fundraising after his treatment of Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Harvey Weinstein raised eyebrows, New York District Attorney Cy Vance said Monday he is in full compliance with a nonprofit’s new report about reducing conflicts of interest.
Elected to office in 2009, Vance drew controversy last year when it came to light that Weinstein and the Trumps were represented by attorneys who donated to Vance’s political campaigns.
Though Vance’s office quashed criminal investigations of these individuals, there has been no allegation that he was bribed.
The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, a nonprofit out of Columbia University Law School, noted in a report Monday “there are several reasons why campaign contributions to prosecutors, especially by defendants, persons under investigation, or lawyers representing parties to criminal proceedings, can be problematic.”
In addition to raising the possibility of a criminal quid pro quo arrangement, “there is the more subtle (and noncriminal) possibility that prosecutors who are aware of campaign donations might be unconsciously biased in favor of their contributor,” according to the report. (Parentheses in original.)
The center conducted its review of campaign-fundraising practices at the request of Vance, who stopped accepting campaign contributions when the scandal erupted in October.
By that point, as detailed in the report, Vance had received more than $2 million in campaign contributions from attorneys and law firms since 2008. This figure represents 36 percent of total contributions. Three-quarters of that $2 million, or about 25 percent of total contributions, came specifically from people associated with defense firms.
Among other recommendations, the Columbia center urged Vance to impose blind campaign-fundraising standards and either refuse or limit contributions from parties with conflicts of interest.
Vance took heed, announcing Monday in reaction to the report that he will no longer accept campaign donations from attorneys whose cases he decides.
“My campaign will meet and exceed these recommendations,” Vance said via his campaign.
Vance said his office implemented the “blinding” procedure effective immediately. In addition to refusing to accept contributions from lawyers appearing before his office, Vance said his campaign will cap contributions from their law partners.
Blind fundraising might seem like common sense, but Jennifer Rodgers at the center noted that it has never been a standard practice in district attorney elections.
“It makes it more challenging to raise money, which is one reason DAs haven’t been aggressively seeking to adopt it,” Rodgers said in an email. “Hopefully with increasing attention on the need to be aware of and to clear the potential for conflicts of interest, more DAs will be interested in establishing this policy.”
Other recommendations laid out in the report include enforcing a separation between the DA’s office and the DA’s campaign, refusing contributions from office staff and their spouses, comprehensive vetting of donors, requiring potential donors to certify their eligibility, and having a campaign publish its policies.
Vance, in his statement Monday, emphasized the report’s point that “legislative action is the surest way to achieve lasting, mandatory campaign finance reform.”
“I look forward to working with lawmakers and reform advocates to advance such legislation, which should include a full public matching funds program for district attorney races,” he added.
The Columbia report notes that an attorney for Harvey Weinstein was a former partner of Vance and had contributed more than $24,000 to his campaign. Though the DA had what appeared to be a confession of sexual assault from the now-disgraced Hollywood producer in 2015, Vance ultimately did not charge Weinstein in the incident.
It also came to light last year that Vance killed a two-year criminal investigation of Trump siblings Donald Jr. and Ivanka in 2012, regarding allegations that they made misrepresentations to potential buyers of TrumpSoHo real estate.
Though Vance returned a $25,000 campaign donation from the Trumps’ attorney, Marc Kasowitz, that year, Kasowitz went on to donate $32,000 to Vance’s campaign in 2013.
Vance did not opt to return that donation until it came to light in 2017.
“In my seven years as district attorney, I’ve never allowed someone’s wealth, power, race, or campaign contributions to influence my decisions,” Vance said in an Oct. 15 op-ed in the New York Daily News. “Public trust in prosecutors requires a leap of faith. I want to make it much easier for that faith to exist.”
Monday’s report, including all seven recommendations, is available online.