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McKinstry: Board of Elections doesn't enforce New York's campaign finance laws

Voting at the Northport City Hall voting location

Voting at the Northport City Hall voting location in Northport, Ala. Tuesday. (Nov. 6, 2012) (Credit: AP)

When it comes politicians breaking the rules, it’s much worse than you think.

And I'm not talking about the seemingly endless parade of perp walks or corruption charges levied against state lawmakers in recent years.

It’s about New York’s campaign finance system – and the state Board of Elections mostly nonexistent enforcement of the laws.


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There were 103,805 violations of New York’s campaign finance laws that went unenforced by the state Board of Elections, according to a report released Tuesday by the New York Public Interest Research Group, an Albany-based good government group.

What’s so staggering about the numbers is that they only covered two years. Imagine if they went back five, or even 10 years.

Violations ran the gamut from corporations giving more than the $5,000 limit (more than 300 instances) to nearly 45,000 examples of candidates not properly listing donors’ addresses in their reports – in some cases not at all.

That’s no way to follow the money. Or police elections, for that matter.

Responding to the report, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says its proof that the existing “self-policing system” does not work. He called for an independent enforcement entity to enforce election laws. But who that enforcer will be is already bogged down in turf battles.

We can only hope the governor and Legislature get moving on this.

Among the larger sums that were over the limit were $50,000 in donations from Koch Industries Inc. to the Suffolk County Conservative Chairman’s Club, a $25,000 donation from Bolla Management to Friends of Ed Mangano and $18,300 from Kings Park Industries Inc. to Friends of William Naughton.

Among the most frequent offenders were state Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Putnam County, who racked up nearly 1,000 of the minor offenses of not reporting donors’ addresses. Second was Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis, who is currently being investigated by the feds over his finances and real estate holdings, with 479 incomplete addresses.

Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner led the list of pols missing dates in their filings with 112.

While some of the reporting could be attributed to clerical and filing errors, other failures could have been a “red flag,” as NYPIRG put it, to investigators to look at certain dealings more closely.

“Unfortunately, failure to obey basic laws such as the requirement to file are so common that the entire system is held in disregard,” NYPIRG wrote.

The problem in this state is that the Board of Elections has shown itself to be an ineffective enforcer of the rules. How could they be tough when they don’t have any election inspectors?

New York clearly needs reforms. But those who benefit from the system may not have to desire to change it. 

Tags: albany , new york , corruption , politics , Paul Feiner , andrew cuomo , campaign finance

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