NYPIRG looks for Board of Election's Teeth
August 22nd, 2012
The New York Public Interest Group went looking for the state Board of Election’s teeth and they didn’t find any. Thanks to two freedom of information requests NYPIRG discovered that the only action the BOE took against violators of campaign finance law over the last year were “modest” fines against committees that disclosed late.
NYPIRG points out that the BOE isn’t really doing its job when it comes to fining late-filing committees. “An examination of committees that haven’t filed recently shows that even in this area, the Board has not met its responsibilities to enforce the law,” wrote Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG. 2,328 active committees with $31,181,363.85 in the bank have still not disclosed any transactions made during the six months covered by the July filing period. Many of these “missing in action” committees have not filed in a year or more. The fact that the Board does not perform any audits raises the disturbing possibility that some of these candidates have simply pocketed the money. While the vast majority of these filers may not have engaged in serious violations of the law, the Board’s anemic oversight and enforcement creates the impression that non-compliance with the law carriers little risk of real consequences.”
Anyone familiar with the escapades of former Sen. Pedro Espada and his long delayed campaign finance filings can recall the BOE’s no-so-dogged approach to getting Espada to file. Espada would miss a deadline and offer an excuse and the BOE would start waiting for him to file by the next agreed upon deadline, which usually resulted in another excuse for not filing. In fact NYPIRG’s report points out that Espada’s committee hasn’t filed in a while. Of course he has bigger things to worry about at the moment.
The Board of Election has issued this statement in response to NYPIRG’s report:
While we share NYPIRG’s view that the enforcement of campaign finance disclosure is vitally important to the electoral process, we dispute the conclusions in the campaign finance report issued by NYPIRG today. They allege wrongdoing by candidates and inaction by the State Board of Elections that is just not true.
Since 2006, we have initiated 5,042 lawsuits against candidates and committees seeking more than $1.5 million in court-assessed fines for failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports. While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law. 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.
With regard to persistent delinquents, between 2007 and 2010 the Board made more than 900 referrals to the Albany County District Attorney for failure to file. During that same period 239 referrals of corporations were made to other District Attorneys around the state for corporate over-contributions.
Since the law was changed in 2005, and local filers were required to file with the State Board, our total number of filers has increased more than seven-fold, going from 1,716 in 2004 to more than 12,300 last year. During that time the resources allocated to the Board by the state have not kept pace with that increased workload.
The suggestion that we have not asked for additional resources is simply untrue. The Board consistently seeks significant increases in staffing and funding from the Division of the Budget each year but as everyone knows the budget process is difficult in a bad economy. This is also a persistent theme expressed during our Board meetings which are broadcast to the general public and anyone who has attended a budget hearing will hear that same request for the State Board from other advocacy groups.
Our goal as an administrative agency is compliance. Even NYPIRG’s own figures obtained from the State Board demonstrate that a vast majority of filers are compliant with state law.By David King on August 22, 2012, 12:28 pm
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