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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

A lack of transparency for political clubs

John Ryan, seen in 2005, who is the

John Ryan, seen in 2005, who is the attorney for the Nassau County Republican Committee, said some GOP club leaders stopped filing financial disclosures in 2006, when the state began requiring electronic filing and some had difficulty changing from the previous paper-based system. Photo Credit: Newsday / Dick Yarwood

State election laws require that political clubs each year disclose how much they raise and distribute, if it is more than $1,000.

How is it then, that a club -- no, make that eight clubs, all of them Republican and all of them in Nassau -- got away without doing so.

For one year shy of a decade.

The results came from Newsday's review of campaign finance records for 113 local Democratic and Republican clubs in Nassau and Suffolk.

It's hard to fathom -- or maybe not, given pressure on New York's finances over that time -- that no one checked, that no one noticed anything.

During that time, some clubs did file paper disclosures with the county board of elections, where sometimes the materials, GOP officials said, were accepted as a "courtesy" -- although the county board said it did not have copies when a Newsday reporter asked.

And when Newsday brought the matter to the state's attention, officials didn't seem particularly bothered about the failures to file, either.

"If there is an organization that is spending thousands of dollars on candidates/campaigns annually, then they likely should be filing with us," according to a statement from the state Board of Elections.

OK.

So what happens if clubs didn't, for, say a year shy of a decade?

The state board punted that one over to a new state office, the Division of Election Law Enforcement, which was created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a compromise with state lawmakers that shuttered Cuomo's Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

And the response from the division -- which was created to quell growing criticism of state campaign finance laws?

"Without knowing specific information and looking into all of the facts and circumstances, it would not be fair to make such a broad and general statement," Risa Sugarman, who was appointed by Cuomo last year to head the enforcement agency, told Newsday.

Really?

How much more does the division need to know in these eight cases other than that there were no required disclosures filed?

With separate ongoing federal investigations into public corruption in New York State, and on Long Island, would a more definitive statement say, along the lines of, "Wow, this is right up our alley, and with all the federal heat on us, we're most definitely going to at least take a look at this."

But no.

And from there it gets even worse.

Even if the clubs had filed required electronic reports, the state Board of Elections doesn't have the resources to make sure they are correct -- or even to ensure that clubs that are supposed to file actually do so every year.

"We do not have the staff to review every contributor to evaluate whether or not they should be reporting to us," a spokesman said.

Which is no small comfort to New York State residents and the good-government groups clamoring for election law reform.

According to the Newsday computer analysis, the eight clubs donated a total of almost half a million dollars to candidates -- including some who were bosses of the clubs' presidents.

Until every club files -- and a Nassau GOP official said that every club would -- the only way residents could discern which club donated how much to who, would be to go through individual candidate filings seeking donors.

This is not transparency; this is not disclosure.

And, most assuredly, this is not reform.

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