Maloney First to Hit the Air in AG Race

Gay Democratic candidate presses plan for NYS to force Bush to justify wiretapping

In a television advertising buy due to be announced on March 23, Sean Patrick Maloney, a gay man and a former top aide to President Bill Clinton in the White House, will be the first of six Democratic candidates for state attorney general to hit the airwaves—almost six months in advance of the September 12 primary.

More significantly, Maloney is set to announce a novel legal approach likely to garner interest and potentially wide support among New Yorkers—as attorney general, he pledges, he would file a complaint in federal court seeking an order that the Bush administration, in secret session, show cause for wiretapping any Empire State residents.

In a press release obtained by Gay City News that Maloney was set to release Thursday morning, he emphasized that he is not opposed to the use of wiretapping in waging the war on terror, but he believes that the program should be carried out in accordance with both New York State law and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“As a New Yorker, I am committed to stopping, capturing, punishing, or killing the terrorists who target America for attack, but I am also committed to the rule of law in this country, or at least this state,” Maloney is quoted as saying in the release. “George Bush is not above the law.”

In a 30-second spot titled “Good Question,” the 39-year-old Manhattanite, standing in front of a courthouse and holding up a copy of the complaint he has already drafted, says, “The founding fathers didn’t trust George Washington with unlimited power, so why would we trust George Bush?”

The press release from the Maloney campaign takes pains to note that the candidate’s proposed action as attorney general “does not stop, compromise, or hamper ongoing operations” of the National Security Agency, but rather would force the administration to come to court to get “legal.” Maloney’s brief argues that “eavesdropping” without consent of at least one party or benefit of a court order is illegal in New York and that FISA allows for “emergency” wiretapping only if evidence of the need for it is provided to a special federal magistrate within 48 hours.

The Maloney campaign took note of recent case law and precedent for state attorneys general to take on federal government officials or agencies which they believe are violating their state laws or acting outside of congressional authority. The Maloney press release points to litigation that the Oregon attorney general recently pursued successfully blocking then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft from interfering with that state’s assisted suicide law without explicit legal authority.

Erick Mullen, a Maloney campaign official, said that the ad buy would air in markets throughout the state for a period of at least a week and a half. Citing uncertainty over how long the effort would be sustained, she declined to offer an estimate of the total dollar value of the buy.

Maloney’s campaign said that it has raised more than $1.5 million so far toward its goal of $3 million. Three of his five rivals have raised more money—former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, with about $4 million, much of it left from his truncated 2002 gubernatorial bid; former city Public Advocate Mark Green, with more than $2.2 million at the last public filing; and housing advocate Charlie King, also with more than $2.2 million.

Still, Maloney’s success at attracting donors has led many party leaders to look at his bid as a serious one, with elders such as former Mayor Ed Koch and former state Comptroller Carl McCall sitting down with him to hear his thoughts on the race and his plans for the office.

To date, the media, however, has largely focused on the two best-known names in the field—Cuomo and Green. At an early February Manhattan •fundraiser, Maloney argued, “I don’t think the top guys in this race have closed the deal with the people of New York.”

In a career that his included legal work focusing on criminal and institutional investigations of corporations, and also entrepreneurial experience, Maloney most emphasizes his three years as staff secretary to Clinton during which he was responsible for the flow of information to the president when executive decisions were needed.

Maloney is clearly betting that the novelty of this early advertising buy will give him the public attention he will need to present his broader résumé to likely Democratic primary voters.