N.Y. AG-hopeful has history of donations, state work

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 9, 2010, 12:00pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - Sean Coffey, a Democrat running for New York attorney general, has made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions nationwide in the last 10 years, according to a review of his political donations by the Wall Street Journal.

A look at his contributions from 2000 to mid-2009 shows Coffey directed much of his money to candidates or party committees where his then-law firm pursued contacts to represent public pension funds in shareholder lawsuits.

Coffey left his job as a securities litigator at Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann in December to run for office. He has donated nearly $20,000 to New York Comptrollers Carl McCall and Alan Hevesi.

The office, according to The Wall Street Journal on Monday, hired his firm to represent the state's pension fund in three major cases -- splitting a total of more than $400 million in fees with another firm.

Records also show that in 2006 Coffey and four other attorneys at his firm donated a total of $25,000 to Jim Hood, Mississippi's current attorney general.

Of the total, Coffey gave $5,000. Just a week later, Hood hired the firm to represent the state's Public Employees Retirement System in a securities class action against Delphi Corp., according to the Journal.

The suit was settled in 2007, with the lawyers in the case pocketing $40.5 million in fees.

The firm, the Journal noted, has represented Mississippi's pension fund in several other cases and has contributed more than $70,000 to Hood since 2006.

In a statement, Hood said the hiring of outside counsel in securities cases has "zero relation to campaign contributions."

The attorney general said a dozen firms are on the state's approved list of counsels. "The first of these firms to e-mail or contact our office about a case gets to handle the case," he said in his statement.

Records show Coffey and people associated with Bernstein Litowitz also donated more than $45,000 to the attorney general and state treasurer of North Carolina in 2008. Then, in December, the state solicited proposals for outside services for their various pension funds. Now, Bernstein Litowitz is one of several firms vying to be hired.

Also in 2008, Coffey and his then-firm contributed more than $200,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party. Coffey alone contributed $50,000 to the party that year. A spokeswoman for Coffey said that money was intended to be used in the presidential campaign.

At the time, an Ohio law prohibited politicians from awarding contracts to firms that made large contributions to their campaigns. The state's Democratic attorney general, Richard Cordray, who was elected in November 2008, received little money from firms but his campaign received funds from the state party, the Journal said.

Then, last year, Cordray chose Bernstein Litowitz to serve as co-lead counsel in a class-action suit against Bank of America, according to the Journal.

Tammy Sun, a spokeswoman for Coffey's campaign, defended his donations to the WSJ.

"Sean is also the most effective investor-advocate attorney in America, having delivered top-notch results for retirees who were cheated by corporate criminals -- in part by forcing guilty executives to pay tens of millions of dollars personally for the first time in history," she said in a statement.

"So the fact that his previous law firm represented defrauded investors in several high-profile corporate corruption cases should come as no surprise.

"Any distortion of Sean's lifelong commitment to Democratic core values and, separately, the impressive results he delivered for defrauded investors is political game-playing."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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