N.Y. Assemblyman’s girlfriend lobbied him, prompting ethics concerns

N.Y. Assemblyman's girlfriend lobbied him, prompting ethics concerns

Staten Island Assemblyman Charles Fall’s girlfriend lobbied him on a range of legislative issues in the months before she launched a campaign for state Senate, the Daily News has learned, raising eyebrows from a government watchdog who said the personal-professional overlap may constitute a conflict of interest.

Bianca Rajpersaud, Fall’s girlfriend and a registered lobbyist at Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron, is listed in state records as having lobbied the Democratic Assembly member as part of 11 different contracts the firm inked in 2021 and 2022 with private companies and nonprofits seeking to curry favor with Albany lawmakers. The duo began dating in 2020, a rep for Fall confirmed.

The clients on whose behalf Rajpersaud lobbied her boyfriend included e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, the New York City-based Center for Charter School Excellence and a Yemeni-American merchants group in Brooklyn, the records show. All of the contracts involved “direct lobbying” and had a variety of focuses, such as state funding for city charter schools and legislation affecting “e-cigarettes, vaping and taxation,” according to the records.

Rajpersaud’s most recent lobbying contract targeting Fall expired in February — the same month she announced she’s running in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary to replace retiring Staten Island and southern Brooklyn state Sen. Diane Savino.

Assemblyman Charles Fall and Bianca Rajpersaud

Fall — who has publicly endorsed Rajpersaud’s state Senate campaign over Savino’s preferred candidate in the race — repeatedly declined to say last week if he sought guidance from the Legislative Ethics Commission before his girlfriend began lobbying him.

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Instead, he would only tell The News he has been “legally carrying out my duties as an elected official.”

The commission, which serves as the state Legislature’s internal ethics watchdog, declined to comment on whether Fall asked for guidance, citing privacy protocols.

There is no legal requirement for state lawmakers to consult the Legislative Ethics Commission about professional interactions with love interests who aren’t spouses.

But Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst with government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said the girlfriend-boyfriend lobbying raises concerns that could’ve been avoided if Fall was open about whether he cleared the matter with the commission.

“The purpose of the Legislative Ethics Commission is to literally answer questions like this,” she said. “State ethics law generally says that you should not use your position for your own or your spouse’s personal gain, and it gets complicated when it’s someone who’s a girlfriend or a boyfriend.”

Fauss added: “It’s much better for constituents to know that their representatives do their due diligence instead of problems emerging.”

Six of the clients Rajpersaud represented in lobbying Fall were seeking state funding. It’s unclear if any of those clients secured extra taxpayer dollars as a result of Rajpersaud’s lobbying, since the state Legislature does not disclose individual lawmakers’ discretionary spending allocations. Fall declined to comment on the matter.

Rajpersaud, who still works for Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron while campaigning for the state Senate, would not say if Fall contacted the Legislative Ethics Commission, either. She said her firm advised her on the interactions with Fall, though, and claimed inquiries about her lobbying him is distracting from her state Senate race.

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“Let’s focus on the real issues and stop feeding into this gossip and mean-spirited reporting,” she said. “I am focused on the issues at hand, and that’s making sure we turn out the vote for Aug. 23, we fight for representation for the community and restore common sense governance.”

A person who was on three Zoom calls last year with Rajpersaud, Fall and clients she was lobbying him on behalf of said the couple did not disclose to other call participants that they were romantically involved. The person, who only spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of angering Rajpersaud and Fall, said she only found out months later that they’re a couple.

“It definitely was odd of him as a member and her as his girlfriend to not let anyone know,” the source said.

Rajpersaud is facing Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, Savino’s former chief of staff, and two other candidates in next month’s primary for the 23rd state Senate district, which covers the north shore of Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, including Coney Island.

Savino, who was first elected to represent the district in 2004, has endorsed Scarcella-Spanton and said in an interview on NY1 in February that she is retiring because “it is time for me to step off this stage and onto another one.”

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