NEW YORK — Russell Simmons has no problem speaking out for a cause he believes in and will not hesitate to get his friends involved in fighting with him. However, Def Jam's founding father says he's no lobbyist.
"The judge has asked them to stop investigating me," Simmons said Tuesday night, referring to a probe by the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, which is trying to determine whether Simmons broke the law by failing to register with them and refusing to disclose how much money he spent on a star-studded rally (see "Judge Halts Probe Into Russell Simmons' Drug Law Campaign").
At Jay-Z's 40/40 Club, Simmons and friends like P. Diddy were celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Al Sharpton, and the mogul wasn't holding his tongue about his disdain for the investigation.
"I think it's a surprise that [New York Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer and his team would support this effort," Simmons said. "The attorney general is wasting the state's money going after me. I'm not a lobbyist, I'm not hiding behind anybody. I'm only educating people. If a rally is an infringement on that [lobbying] law, then we need to change that law. We know the First Amendment rights protect us. If we want to have a rally, we can; it doesn't make me a lobbyist."
In June, Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network sponsored a large public protest that featured stars like Jay, Diddy, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, the Beastie Boys and actress Susan Sarandon calling for Gov. George Pataki to overturn the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which mandate prison terms for people caught with a relatively small amount of drugs (see "Diddy, Jay-Z, Susan Sarandon Rally Against New York Drug Laws").
Simmons implied that the lobbying commission's investigation may have been spurred by opponents of his high-profile efforts.
"The fact is we all want change, [but] the prosecutors do not want to get rid of mandatory sentencing," Simmons said. "Eliot is the head of the prosecutors. He's prosecuting me, and I think it's wrong. I think the state of New York is wasting money. It's a terrible waste of funds. It's also dishonest. It's cost me a couple hundred thousand dollars; I don't know how much it's costing the state. I know I'm protected under First Amendment rights. I'm not working for anybody, there's no gains for myself or any corporation, and I'm no one's lobbyist."
A spokesperson for Spitzer could not be reached for comment by press time.
— Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Gideon Yago