Eight Nassau Republican clubs that contributed a total of nearly $500,000 to local candidates between 2006 and this year violated state election laws by failing to report thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, according to a Newsday computer analysis.
The analysis shows that some politicians are getting campaign money from clubs run by local officials or former officials who work for them or once worked for them. Among the clubs that did not file required annual disclosures with the state Board of Elections over the nine-year period from 2006 until last week are:
The Massapequa South Republican Club, led by Oyster Bay Town Attorney Leonard Genova, 51, which has donated a total of $151,740 to local political candidates since 2006. The largest amount -- $43,450 -- went to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, Genova's boss. Venditto, 66, also heads the North Massapequa Republican Club, which has not filed state disclosures since 2006.
The Seaford Republican Club, led by former Hempstead Town deputy general services Commissioner Charles Milone, 59, which has contributed $107,340 since 2006. Milone's former boss, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, the Republican candidate for Nassau County district attorney, received the largest share, $9,425.
The North Bellmore Republican Club, led by Hempstead Town Department of Water Commissioner John Reinhardt, 45, which has given candidates $99,520 over the past nine years, including $10,625 to Murray, for whom he works.
State law requires all political clubs and committees that raise or spend more than $1,000 annually to candidates to file financial disclosure reports each year with the state Board of Elections. Violators can face civil fines or criminal penalties.
A Newsday review of campaign finance records for the 113 local Democratic and Republican clubs in Suffolk and Nassau found eight of the 73 Nassau GOP clubs have failed to file disclosures with the state since 2006.
The clubs -- Massapequa South, Seaford, Merrick, North Bellmore, Lakeview, North Massapequa, Roosevelt and Manhasset -- have made $485,020.98 in campaign donations since 2006, according to campaign records filed by other candidates and political committees.
By not filing with the state, the clubs make it impossible for voters to identify club donors and force voters to examine the campaign filings of individual candidates to determine where the clubs are spending some of their money.
In February, Newsday reported Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves violated state election laws by failing to file dozens of reports over nine years. During reporting on the story, Gonsalves filed the paperwork creating her committee for the first time and has since filed her missing disclosures.
Some club leaders stopped filing financial disclosures in 2006, when the state began requiring electronic filing, said John Ryan, attorney for the Nassau County Republican Committee. He said some older club officers had difficulty changing from the previous paper-based system.
"These are people that found the transition too daunting and they did something they shouldn't have done -- they threw up their hands," said Ryan, to whom several clubs referred Newsday requests for comment. "They should have complied."
Ryan said he first became aware of the issue when Newsday contacted the Nassau Republican Committee. While the committee has no control over the finances of the local clubs, Ryan said he has contacted all the groups Newsday inquired about and notified them of the obligation to report electronically.
"I've spoken to every single one of them and they've been told they have to file," Ryan said.
Massapequa South, North Massapequa and Seaford filed disclosures last Wednesday in accordance with Board of Elections requirements for all candidates and committees.
The Floral Park GOP Club, led by former Floral Park Village Mayor Phil Guarnieri, had not filed state disclosures from 2011 until last week. Its report for the period Jan. 12 to July 11 showed it received no donations and had no expenses or contributions to candidates. The club had $5,074 in its bank account.
Guarnieri said his 81-year-old treasurer had been filing its reports with the county, and the club has since filed all of its missing reports.
State Board of Elections spokesman Thomas Connolly said in a statement that, "if there is an organization that is spending thousands of dollars on candidates/campaigns annually, then they likely should be filing with us."
Connolly referred questions about possible penalties to the state's Division of Election Law Enforcement, an independent enforcement office within the Board of Elections with the authority to open its own cases.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created the office last year in a compromise with the State Legislature that resulted in the closure of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. Cuomo had created the panel in 2013 in response to growing criticism of the state's campaign finance laws.
Risa Sugarman, appointed head of the enforcement agency by Cuomo last June, said in an email, "without knowing specific information and looking into all the facts and circumstances, it would not be fair to make such a broad and general statement."
If Murray were to win the Nassau district attorney's race, among her responsibilities would be the prosecution of campaign finance law crimes, including those investigated by her office or by other law enforcement officers such as Sugarman.
Murray's campaign spokesman Bill Corbett said that if Murray were elected district attorney she would ask for a special prosecutor in the "unlikely event" that the clubs that donated to her campaign were referred to her office for prosecution.
Penalties for not filing
The state's campaign finance handbook says those who do not file as required face a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each missed filing, and up to $10,000 if they have failed to report three or more times in a campaign cycle. The state's handbook also says it is a misdemeanor for "any person who knowingly and willfully fails to file" disclosures.
Once registered with the state, committees are required to file two periodic reports each year, plus three additional reports for any election in which they support or oppose a candidate or ballot proposition. Even during the periods when they do not raise or spend money, the committees are required to file "no activity" statements and must continue filing until they submit paperwork to the state terminating the committee's existence.
Connolly said while the state audits filings "to make sure that any technical errors or missing information are corrected . . . we do not have the staff to review every contributor to evaluate whether or not they should be reporting with us."
Rachael Fauss, director of public policy for Citizens Union, a nonprofit watchdog group, said lapses by political clubs in Nassau and statewide highlight the need for increased state enforcement of election laws.
"Just like you would expect any piece of mail you received not to be sent by an anonymous [campaign] donor, the public has a right to know about the political activities of groups in their neighborhoods, involved in endorsements and get-out-the vote efforts," Fauss said.
Clubs failed to register
but had not registered with the state Board of Elections.
The lack of reporting of financial transactions makes "it unknowable if relationships between clubs and candidates resulted in coordinated campaign activities," the report said.
Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Research Interest Group, a nonprofit student-directed advocacy group, said "the disclosures are an important way for the public to know who is donating to whom." They also enable "the public to know which candidates are receiving donations from those that have business before the government, to see if there's a potential for conflict of interest," Horner said.
"There's absolutely no excuse for not filing," Horner said. "The state needs to review Newsday's findings, to figure out what's going on with these groups."
The Nassau clubs that haven't filed disclosures, many of which are led by town employees or elected officials, since 2006 have donated significant amounts to prominent local candidates, including a total of $43,450 to John Venditto, $23,575 to Murray and $14,750 to Venditto's son, state Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa), for county legislature and State Senate races.
Largest share of donations
His North Massapequa Republican Club, which has donated $7,450 to the Nassau Republican Committee since 2006, does not contribute to individual campaigns, and has filed paper disclosures with Nassau County believing "it satisfied the club's legal requirements," said Venditto, who provided to Newsday handwritten reports that he said were the club's 2014 filings.
The filings did not list the names and addresses of contributors as required by state law. They also only listed the names of vendors the club paid for business expenses, although addresses also are required.
County election officials said clerks may have accepted the forms as a "courtesy" but clubs are told they are only required to file with the state.
"It really gets confusing what the filing obligations are, whether one filing satisfies the other," Venditto said.
North Massapequa, in its filing with the state Board of Elections last week, reported $2,385 in contributions from March 19 through June 22.
Corbett said Murray "encourages all organizations to follow the rules and laws regarding campaign contributions." He said that "as of now," Murray had no plans to return contributions from political clubs that have not filed state disclosures.
Michael Venditto's Senate spokesman did not return a call and an email seeking comment.
The Massapequa South Republican Club, led by Genova, was the largest contributor among the eight clubs that did not file disclosures from 2006 until this year, donating $151,740 to GOP candidates since 2006. Beyond John Venditto, the club gave $10,000 to the State Senate and county legislature campaigns of his son Michael Venditto, and $1,690 to former Nassau County Legis. Joseph Belesi (R-Farmingdale).
Genova said he took over the club in 2006, and that since then the treasurer has filed paper disclosures with the county. The club's filing last week showed the club raised $19,780 between Feb. 23 and July 1.
The Merrick Republican Club has donated $102,290 to candidates since 2006. Its largest single recipient was Murray, who received $3,525. The club is led by Albert Belbol, a longtime Merrick activist.
Belbol said the club has been mailing its campaign finance disclosures to the county for the past 30 years.
"My interpretation, or misinterpretation, was that the electronic filing did not apply to the little local committees," Belbol said in an interview. He said the club was "in the process of figuring out what we need to do to register with the state."
The Lakeview Republican Club has donated $7,925 to the Nassau Republican committee since 2006. Club leaders did not return calls seeking comment.
The Roosevelt Republican Club contributed $5,531 to the county GOP over the past two years. Its leader, James Major, did not return calls for comment.
The Manhasset Republican Club donated $3,225 to the county and North Hempstead Republican committees in 2006, triggering the club's requirement to begin disclosing its finances with the state. GOP officials said the club has been dormant since then.