Charles Hynes’s Political Giving Under Fire

Charles Hynes (Photo: NY1)

Charles Hynes (Screengrab: NY1)

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes, who is continuing to run for re-election despite a bruising primary loss, has poured thousands of dollars into his fellow politicians’ coffers while serving as D.A.–despite a rule barring him from endorsing candidates.

State and city campaign finance records show that Mr. Hynes has personally contributed more than $4,000 to candidates, political committees, political clubs and parties–in stark contrast to his four fellow D.A.s, who have largely refrained from making contributions since taking office.

The contributions include support for several prominent Democrats, including failed mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, Democratic District leader Steve Cohn and City Councilman Mathieu Eugene, the records show.

But Mr. Hynes–who has infuriated the Democratic establishment by continuing to run on the Republican and Conservative party lines despite losing the Democratic primary–also opened his pocketbooks to those on the other side of the aisle. He made a $100 contribution to Republican Staten Island D.A. Dan Donovan when he was running for attorney general against Eric Schneiderman in 2010, and gave $350 to the Conservative Action Fund. (A website for a group with the same name describes itself as “formed to spread the conservative message and elect true conservatives” by boosting Conservative Republicans and defeating liberal Democrats.)

According to the state district attorney association’s code of conduct, members are barred from endorsing most political candidates to make sure the offices remain non-partisan, but there are no rules prohibiting political contributions. Nonetheless, Mr. Hynes’s contributions set him apart from his colleagues in the four other boroughs.

Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance, for instance, last made a political contribution in 2009, before taking office. “DA Vance is non-partisan, and he does not make political endorsements or contributions,” his spokeswoman said in a statement. Queens D.A. Richard Brown and Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson have also refrained from making large personal contributions to candidates since taking office–aside from money that Mr. Johnson gave to his own campaigns.

Mr. Donovan, who hasn’t contributed personally in years, echoed the sentiment.

“The ethical guidelines for the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York state that the District Attorney should not endorse a political candidate and, it is our interpretation, that a campaign contribution could be construed as an endorsement,” his spokesman said in a statement. “For this reason, Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. has made no contributions to any campaign while in office,”

Mr. Hynes’s spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, insisted, however, that a political contribution “does not constitute an endorsement, nor does it violate the District Attorney Association’s code of conduct.”

He further stated that Mr. Hynes had never expected anything in return for the contributions. Repeating an accusation the Thompson camp denies–that Mr. Thompson let convicted ex-party boss Clarence Norman run his field operations–Mr. Schmetterer added, “He would have ran on any line to ensure a convicted felon does not gain control of the Brooklyn DA’s office.”

But Dick Dadey, the executive director of the good government group Citizens Union, told Politicker that, although Mr. Hynes’s contributions were relatively small and legally permitted, as Brooklyn’s top law enforcement officer, the candidate “would be better served not to engage in politics by sending political contributions to campaigns.”

“It’s common for elected officials to contribute to one another’s campaigns, but given a district attorney’s law endorsement role, it’s probably not a good thing to make political contributions to candidates,” he said. “It’s legal, but it doesn’t make it right.”

Mr. Thompson’s campaign also piled on.

“Politics as usual for Republican Joe Hynes,” spokesman James Freedland said when reached for comment. “There has never been a more politically-motivated law enforcement official in New York City history — it’s time for change.”