Levy campaign refunds still unclaimed

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy during a news

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy during a news conference. (Nov. 16, 2011) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Rick Brand

Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on Rick Brand

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about

bio

Some Suffolk County executive aides have dubbed it the "Steve Levy Christmas Club."

For the aides, refunds from Levy's $3.9-million campaign kitty that they helped build through their donations may be the one silver lining in a holiday season when job futures are in doubt as a new administration comes in. For other donors, it's an unexpected windfall.

But nearly 2,000 donors have yet to seek a refund -- so far, only 670 donors have applied for a total of $2 million. Donors have 10 days before the Dec. 1 deadline to file their claims.

Levy stunned the political world in March by agreeing to turn over his war chest to District Attorney Thomas Spota and not seek re-election after prosecutors raised questions about his campaign fundraising. Levy then was the odds-on favorite to win re-election to a third term, following a splashy but unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010 after turning Republican.

Spota, a Democrat, invited all 2,600 donors who had contributed since 2006 to seek refunds. To keep the cash from having an impact on fall campaigns, no payments were to be made until after Election Day.

John C. Cochrane, a former Suffolk treasurer and county GOP chairman who is handling the process for Spota, expressed surprise that more donors have not sought refunds, noting that in recent weeks he has received a steady 40 to 50 applications daily. If there is last-minute flood of claims, exceeding the money in the campaign fund, refunds will be made on a pro-rata basis. Two dozen nonprofits and charities have applied for a share if any money is left over, Cochrane said.

Those who seek refunds must provide a canceled check or credit card record for each donation. Cochrane said he has rejected only five applications, though some others were returned for further information.

Cochrane said refunds will be paid only for monetary donations, not in-kind contributions.

"I got a call from one man who said he threw a party in Ocean Beach for Levy and said he spent money on food and liquor," Cochrane said. "I told him you had a party, you didn't make a contribution."

Still unsettled is the fate of a $100,000 contribution that Levy made to Suffolk Republicans weeks before his agreement with prosecutors. At the time, Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said he would voluntarily return the money, saying he could not "in good conscience" keep it and blaming Levy for making "such a contribution knowing that would necessarily taint the party."

LaValle said subsequently that the GOP had used $30,000 in a losing special election campaign, and talked about a "repayment plan" after Election Day.

But Spota spokesman Robert Clifford said the district attorney has not received a check from the party, and Cochrane said he has had no contact with LaValle. LaValle said Friday that the party has no leftover campaign money because, "We put everything we had on the table for the election." LaValle said he plans to meet Monday with town GOP leaders to discuss options on how to go forward.

Prosecutors could not say how or when any payment from the GOP would be factored into any refunds. "The problem is we have $100,000 outstanding and don't know what do with that at this point," Clifford said.

The county Democratic chairman, Richard Schaffer, said he has filed his own claim for $800 in personal donations made to Levy while he was a Democrat, while the party is seeking $8,000 back.

Cochrane said he expects to have the final refund list ready by Dec. 15, and if Spota gives the green light, he will send out checks immediately -- in time for Christmas shopping.

"I've already talked to the bank," Cochrane said. "They say they can . . . handle it."