NEW YORK — A judge on Thursday temporarily suspended a probe into whether hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons broke the law in his fight against the state’s strict drug laws.
The New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying is investigating the amount Simmons and his supporters have spent in lobbying to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which were passed in 1973 and mandate prison terms for people caught with a relatively small amount of drugs.
For years critics have attacked the laws, claiming that imprisoning minor drug offenders overtaxes the judicial system and clogs prisons. In recent months Simmons and his friends have been appealing to the government, claiming the laws are too harsh and disproportionately affect minorities.
But while the Def Jam Records and Phat Farm clothing founder argues that he’s just exercising his First Amendment rights, members of the state’s lobbying commission claim Simmons broke the law by failing to register with them and refusing to disclose how much money he’s spent. Any lobbyist spending more than $2,000 is required to register with the commission.
“It’s unfair for the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to be unjustly targeted by the New York Lobbying Commission,” Simmons said in a statement sent to MTV News Thursday. “We represent hip-hop and we will not be silenced. We’re grateful that the judge has suspended the investigation, but it’s really time for it to be stopped altogether.”
In June, Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network sponsored a large public protest that featured stars like Jay-Z, P. Diddy, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, the Beastie Boys and actress Susan Sarandon calling for Gov. George Pataki to overturn the laws (see “Diddy, Jay-Z, Susan Sarandon Rally Against New York Drug Laws” ).
“There was a lot of money spent [on the rally], [but] we don’t know by who or on what,” the lobbying commission’s executive director, David Grandeau, said. “Simmons has refused to cooperate.”
A spokesperson for Simmons called the allegations ridiculous and said Simmons has handed in all the paperwork the commission has asked for.
A few weeks ago, reports surfaced claiming that Andrew Cuomo, who ran for governor of New York last year and is one of Simmons’ supporters, had responded to the commission’s inquiry and had turned over documents incriminating Simmons. On Tuesday, Cuomo filed an affidavit in court refuting the reports.
“I was troubled to see recent reports quoting [Grandeau] saying that I was somehow cooperating with the investigation against Mr. Simmons,” Cuomo said in the affidavit. “I did not cooperate in any investigation of Mr. Simmons. All I did was turn over documents requested in a subpoena served by Mr. Grandeau. None of these documents implicate Mr. Simmons or any of the plaintiffs in any lobbying activities.”
Simmons’ lawyer, Stephen Younger, said his client is due back in court October 23, at which time the judge could permanently stop the investigation or allow the commission to continue developing its case. If the investigation is allowed to continue and Simmons is found to have broken the law, he could face up to $25,000 in fines for each violation.
Obviously with all the millions Simmons has accumulated over the years, he could easily pay the fine, Simmons doesn’t take issue with the matter of money. It’s about his right to free speech.
“We will continue to speak out in favor of exposing the unfairness of the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” Simmons said.