News Coverage on Campaign Finance
$31 million in New York campaign accounts unreported, group claimsJon Campbell
As of Aug. 13, a total of 622 campaign committees with about $12 million on hand did not file a state-mandated report of their finances that was due in mid-July, said the New York Public Interest Research Group. An additional 1,700 worth $19 million told the state Board of Elections they hadn’t made any transactions over the previous six months.
While the board has levied fines against late filers, those penalties have usually been between $100 and $1,000, according to public records obtained by NYPIRG.
Those fines “clearly are not enough to deter candidates who appear to have no interest in filing on time or, in some cases, ever,” the group wrote in its report. Some campaign accounts had not filed any activity in several years and belong to officials who have long left office.
“At some point, once a committee misses a couple of filing periods and stops responding to letters, there should be some sort of criminal violations that can be imposed,” said Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG’s research coordinator.
State and local candidates, officeholders and political action committees are required to file a financial report with the state every six months in non-election years. Those reports, which include the amount of donations recorded and where the money was spent, are made available on the Board of Elections’ website.
The Board of Elections took issue with the premise of the report, which painted a picture of lax regulation of campaign-finance laws. Since 2006, the board has filed 5,042 lawsuits against candidates seeking more than $1.5 million in fines for missed filings, according to spokesman John Conklin.
Good-government groups have long been critical of the Board of Elections for its structure and enforcement record.
“While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law,” Conklin said in a statement. “In addition, we average more than 4,000 enforcement actions each year which stop short of litigation because the committees or candidates make their filing.”
Among the most consistent violators is former Sen. Pedro Espada, a Bronx Democrat who was at the center of a 2009 Senate coup and was convicted in May on felony embezzlement charges. Espada’s two campaign accounts and two political action committees haven’t filed a report with the Board of Elections in at least two years.
Combined, those accounts were worth about $378,000 in their most recent filings, which range from 2002 to 2010.
Also on the list of non-filers are two PACs aimed at ousting Greg Ball, a state senator from Putnam County who previously served in the state Assembly. The accounts, which was seeded with $250,000 from New York City real estate developer and Lewisboro resident Adam Rose, never filed reports after they were initially opened in 2008.
Rose could not be reached for comment.
Adam Bradley, the former White Plains mayor and state assemblyman who was convicted of domestic assault in 2010, still shows $176,131 in his campaign account. He filed a “no activity report” in July.
Mahoney said many of those reports, which are meant to be filed when a committee hasn’t taken in or spent a single dollar over a reporting period, are likely legitimate. But it’s unlikely for a campaign with a large sum of money to not reap any interest or have any costs, he said.
“I am skeptical of committees with tens of thousands, or in some cases even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in the bank going several years without raising a single dime’s worth of interest or paying a dollar of bank fees,” Mahoney said.
One former lawmaker said his campaign account has been idle since he left office in 2010. Former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, D-Bronx, said his committee will audit its filings and cover any outstanding expenses before officially closing out the account.
“We’re looking at our bank records and will update the filings as soon as possible,” he said.
Conklin, the Board of Elections spokesman, said the “vast majority of filers are compliant with state law.” According to the NYPIRG report, 3,639 committees disclosed their transactions in July.
“Our goal as an administrative agency is compliance,” he said.