A month before getting a Republican County Court nomination in Suffolk, Brookhaven Town board member Tim Mazzei gave $34,500 to the town GOP -- and Democrats say he should return the money to donors.
Brookhaven Republican chairman Jesse Garcia said the donation did not violate state rules and was made before Mazzei was named the party's judicial candidate.
In opinions dating to 1992, the state Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics has said unspent campaign funds "may not be used in present campaign for judicial office, for general party use or for the campaigns of candidates sharing the ballot, but must be returned to donors on a pro rata basis."
State judicial rules also say a person only becomes a judicial candidate when they make a public announcement of candidacy or authorize solicitation or acceptance of contributions.
In 2012, Brookhaven's Democratic Highway Superintendent John Rouse, was barred from giving any of his $300,000 campaign fund to any party after he was nominated for County Court judge due to the state ethics rules.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said the intent of the ethics opinion is clear and that Mazzei, a Republican whom Democrats have cross-endorsed, should return the money to donors.
"Whether or not he complies on technical ground, for appearance sake, they should return all the money to donors," Schaffer said. "I'm sure Tim was unaware and he will comply."
Mazzei did not return calls for comment Friday.
Campaign disclosure reports filed July 15 show Friends of Tim Mazzei gave $34,500 to the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee on April 17.
Mazzei's July 15 campaign finance report showed he had $24,617 on hand. Garcia could not say how much Mazzei has in his account, but he said the money will be handled "in the proper way."
Suffolk Republicans named Mazzei as one of two county court candidates on May 20 after his screening by party leaders a week earlier. John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, had called Mazzei a leading contender for the county court post as far back as February.
Subsequently, Mazzei and GOP District Court Judge Philip Goglas received cross-endorsements from the Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties, virtually assuring them of election to county court. In return, Democratic County Court Judge Barbara Kahn won cross-endorsements for a newly created Family Court judgeship.
Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive, said that while Mazzei might not formally have been a candidate, the timing of his donation to the Brookhaven GOP raises "a perception issue" because it makes it look "like he secured the nomination with campaign funds."
Garcia called the assertion "baseless." Garcia said Mazzei "has had a long history of providing candidates and the party committee with contributions on a regular basis to grow the Republican majority."