The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics is standing by its decision to investigate a rape survivor for violating lobbying laws by taking out billboards supporting a new sex abuse victims’ law, The Post has learned.
Kat Sullivan, who dressed in a red and white outfit from “The Handmaid’s Tale” to protest JCOPE in September, had allegedly used cash from the legal settlement in her rape case to pay $5,000 for the ads backing the Child Victims Act.
The probe of an average person like Sullivan drew criticism from lawmakers. But the state commission says that the lobbying laws apply to everyone equally, correspondence obtained by The Post reveals.
“While we fully appreciate the concerns … the Legislative law requires disclosures of expenditures over $5,000 intended to influence the passage of legislation, regardless of the merits of the cause,” JCOPE chairman Michael Rozen wrote in an Oct. 10 letter responding to Assembly members Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and Charles Lavine (D-Nassau). The lawmakers had written the commission asking them to reconsider the probe.
“The Commission cannot pick and choose who is covered out of sympathy or hostility. Efforts to query a source or to urge compliance is mandated by the Legislature … ” Rozen added.
Rozen also said JCOPE reaches out to individuals and advises them to comply with the lobbying law before taking any enforcement actions.
“It may be that the Legislature will wish to amend the law by changing threshold limits or further defining lobbying,” he told the lawmakers.
JCOPE has come under fire for the secretiveness surrounding its handling of cases.
While cracking down on Sullivan — who is facing thousands in fines — the ethics agency has yet to say whether it’s punishing former top Governor Andrew Cuomo confidante Joe Percoco for doing campaign work from the governor’s office.
Percoco’s acts were spelled out at his federal corruption trial.
Lavine told The Post Wednesday that Rozen and JCOPE missed the point of their request.
“The best prosecutors understand the importance of discretion. Ms. Sullivan was the victim of a sexual crime. I thought they would be more sympathetic to the needs of people who are victims of crimes,” said Lavine, the former Assembly ethics committee chairman, said.
GOP chairman Nick Langworthy also on Wednesday accused JCOPE of treating Sullivan more harshly than Percoco.
“J-Joke should be ashamed of itself for going after a citizen rape victim for trying to bring attention to her case, while refusing to investigate clear, evidence-backed crimes committed by corrupt Cuomo and his top confidante, Joe Percoco. This kangaroo court controlled by the Governor has zero credibility,” Langworthy told The Post.
Sullivan is a rape survivor from her time as a student at Emma Willard school in upstate Troy. She used a portion of funds from the settlement she received from the school to pay for the billboards.
“Ms. Sullivan was not paid any organization, institution or individual for her advocacy,” Rosenthal and Lavine said in their original plea to JCOPE to back off.
Meanwhile, an advocacy group called The Government Justice Center filed a lawsuit on Sullivan’s behalf against JCOPE.
“The Joint Commission is very clearly violating Ms. Sullivan’s first amendment right to speak and petition the government by continuing to harass her for speaking her mind,” the group said. “Civic engagement should be encouraged, not silenced.”