Editorial: No cop on the beat for New York elections
GalleriesElection 2012: Westchester, Rockland and Hudson Valley Nan Hayworth and Sean Patrick Maloney Nita Lowey through the years
For all the chatter about campaign finance reform in New York, you would think the state would have a few people on staff following the money. Not so.
The state Board of Elections in Albany has no investigators trolling over campaign filings of candidates or going over lists of donors, expenditures and contributions. Not even one, since the last investigator started collecting a retirement pension last year.
A few years ago, the agency had three investigators, but it's unclear if those posts were eliminated or have gone unfilled, the effect of a hiring freeze. The state Board of Elections can't even give a clear answer as to why those posts aren't filled other than saying it has steadily been losing positions; the board is down 25 positions to 58 since 2007.
Maloney tops Hayworth
| State Sen. Ball re-elected
| Rep. Lowey wins re-election
PHOTOS: Election 2012: Westchester, Rockland, HV
DATABASES: Contributions to NYS Senate | Contributions to NYS Assembly | Local donations for 2012 race
Whatever the reason, it means there's no real enforcement of campaign financing laws in New York State. And that's got to change if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is as serious about campaign finance reform as he led us to believe during his State of the State address last week.
The lack of scrutiny leaves candidates and party leaders to police themselves in some sort of honor system. Making matters worse is the state's reliance on county elections boards for "leads" on suspected problems like conflicts of interest, missed deadlines or information that's just plain wrong. These fiefdoms are often controlled by party chiefs and loaded with patronage hires who have little interest in changing the status quo.
In Westchester County, sorting through financial reports is like putting together a puzzle without all the pieces. The two elections commissioners head their respective parties. In recent years, particularly for Republicans, the state party has doled out cash from its coffers to the local party chair, who then passed it on to candidates running for local office. If that's not straightforward enough, some of these candidates then paid for printing from a company owned by the party boss, who doubles as the elections commissioner. While leaders claim it's all legit, it sure does reek and lack transparency. And that's just one of many complicated scenarios.
The New York State Police and district attorneys do have the authority to look into suspicious finances, but these agencies generally defer to the Board Elections' lead -- and notwithstanding the politics in those agencies, have other crimes to solve.
The New York Public Research Interest Group last year mined five years of data and found that hundreds of campaign donors across the state gave more than what the state law allowed, that candidates often failed to disclose large contributions, and thousands of filings hid the identity of donors through incomplete and inaccurate information. But it seems they rarely got more than warning letters or a slap on the wrist for violating the rules. The group also found in 2012 that 2,328 campaign committees hadn't disclosed anything, despite having $31.2 million to spend. That's why the investigators are needed.
Voters have a right to know that when political candidates report who's contributing to their campaigns, those reports comply with the law. For that to happen, the state needs cops on the election beat.