by Chuck Ross
NEW YORK – When Eric Schneiderman resigned as New York’s attorney general on May 7 amid revelations he engaged in a pattern of alleged physical abuse of women he dated over the years, one of the Democrat’s first defenders was his ex-wife, a New York-based lobbyist named Jennifer Cunningham.
Schneiderman is “someone of the highest character,” said Cunningham, who asserted it was “impossible to believe” the allegations in a New Yorker report that Schneiderman abused multiple girlfriends over a period of several years.
Cunningham’s defense of her ex-husband drew some attention because of her position as a partner at SKDKnickerbocker, a Democrat-aligned public relations and lobbying firm that touts its feminist bona fides. Two of its most high-profile partners are Clinton White House aide Hilary Rosen and Obama White House aide Anita Dunn.
Though they divorced in 1996, Cunningham remained one of Schneiderman’s closest political advisers — so close that Cunningham worked as an unpaid adviser for Schneiderman before his fall from grace.
That pro bono relationship has been met with skepticism from some New York political observers and government watchdog groups — largely because of Cunningham’s position as a top partner at SKDKnickerbocker.
Numerous examples of potential conflicts of interest mark the Schneiderman-Cunningham relationship.
Crain’s New York documented in 2014 Cunningham set up meetings for clients with Schneiderman, who took office in 2011.
After a prolonged battled with Schneiderman’s office for his emails with Cunningham, Crain’s reported records showing Cunningham pitched Schneiderman on behalf of several clients.
Cunningham set up a meeting for a client, a health care company, Castlight, and Schneiderman, emails from 2011 showed. She arranged an urgent phone call in February 2014 between a top Schneiderman deputy and executives at a hospital operator, Health Quest. Schneiderman’s office was set to play an advisory role in a potential partnership with a hospital gone bankrupt, according to Crain’s.
Schneiderman’s office defended the contacts at the time, saying they were legal under New York law. But that’s just the problem, says Tom Anderson, the executive director of the National Legal & Policy Center — a good government watchdog that has uncovered corruption in New York.
If you wanted something from the Attorney General’s office, you had to go through her, and you had to bring your checkbook. The real scandal in New York is that all of this is legal,” Anderson told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Schneiderman’s ex-wife was one of the biggest power brokers in the state, a modern-day Boss Tweed,” he added.
The cozy connection between Schneiderman and Cunningham continued even after exposure by outlets like Crain’s, New York Post and New York Daily News.
One recent example of a conflict of interest is NRG Energy. On Aug. 30, 2017, a subsidiary of the energy distribution company struck a deal with Schneiderman’s office to reimburse $800,000 to customers who were overcharged millions on their energy bills.
NRG Energy hired SKDKnickerbocker on April 19, 2017, to lobby the executive and legislative branches in New York state, according to lobbying records TheDCNF reviewed. Cunningham is listed as one of the lobbyists on the contract.
Cunningham and SKDK also represented Genting Americas Inc. — a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad — which operates casinos in New York. Genting Americas Inc. lobbied hard against expanding video-slot machine operations at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. In 2015, Schneiderman ultimately sided against online gamblers, providing a boon to casinos and race tracks in the state.
Genting Americas Inc. has contributed $40,000 to Schneiderman’s campaigns from 2011 to 2014, according to lobbying disclosure reports.
Schneiderman has also come under fire for his handling — or lack thereof — of an investigation into Herbalife, a nutrition company accused of operating as a pyramid scheme.
On April 14, 2014, The New York Post broke the story Schneiderman had opened an investigation into Herbalife’s business practices. A week before the investigation opened, Herbalife hired SKDK to help with its defense and public relations campaign, The Post also noted. Cunningham would not work on the account, SKDK said at the time.
The Herbalife investigation appears to have withered on the vine. There have been no major developments or announcements in the case.
Uber is another company that was frequently in Schneiderman’s crosshairs. In November 2017, Schneiderman opened the most recent investigation into the ride-sharing company over a 2016 data breach that affected 57 million users. On March 1, Uber hired SKDK as a lobbyist. Cunningham is listed as one of the lobbyists on that contract.
Now that Schneiderman is out of office, it remains to be seen what will happen to Cunningham’s client roster or her position as an unpaid adviser to the attorney general’s office.
Neither Cunningham nor the AG’s office responded to requests for comment.
Feature Photo: New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman | Image Source: NY AG Office