State probe looking into Simmons’ activities

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The state Lobbying Commission is investigating Jamaica native and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to determine if he violated spending limits in recent months during his crusade to have the state’s harsh Rockefeller drug laws repealed, a state official said.

The commission has asked Simmons and his Hip Hop Summit Action Network to provide details on expenditures in Albany this year as they tried to convince state legislators to change the mandatory prison terms associated with the drug laws, said David Grandeau, executive director of the Lobbying Commission.

“The commission asked Mr. Simmons for specific information about his activities,” Grandeau said. “As to this date he has not provided that documentat­ion.”

Simmons, who grew up in Jamaica, was unavailable to comment on the probe. But Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network that Simmons founded, said the group was cooperating with the state board.

“Our lawyers are in touch with the Lobbying Commission and whatever they require that we have to do, we will fulfill it,” Chavis said. “We will follow all the rules and regulations that are applicable to us.”

Simmons and Chavis were campaigning in Albany to repeal the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws, which mandate prison terms from 15 years to life for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs.

“The Rockefeller drug laws are laws that need to be changed,” Chavis said. “They are unfair and unjust.”

The two had a marathon seven-hour closed door meeting with Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) before the Legislature adjourned without taking any action on the Rockefeller drug laws.

But the Lobbying Commission is looking into whether Simmons and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network should have registered as lobbyists before hitting the Capitol, Grandeau said. A person or organization must register if they are paid for their advocacy or if they spend more than $2,000 to promote their cause, he said.

“We don’t have independent verification that they need to be registered as lobbyists yet,” Grandeau said. “We don’t know that Mr. Simmons should have been registered. We know there is enough information out there to ask him for documentat­ion.”

The commission has asked for information on income, invoices and expenses for 2003 relating to the group’s work in Albany as well as a list of public officials who may have received gifts, Grandeau said. Both Simmons and Chavis are scheduled for a deposition later this month, he said.

Fines could reach $25,000 per expense report that was not filed with the commission, Grandeau said.

But Chavis defended the Hip Hop Summit Action Network as a group dedicated to spreading the word about issues within the hip hop community — not lobbying.

“We are not a lobbying body,” Chavis said. “What we have been doing and what we will continue to do is raise awareness. What we did was well within our First Amendment rights.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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