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Nassau Democrats want to close new law’s loopholes

Legislative Democrats want to close loopholes in Nassau’s new law requiring that vendors disclose their political giving, as the county’s fiscal control board mulls loosening its own rules.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his caucus will submit a bill Monday to amend the campaign contribution disclosure forms that became effective April 1. Newsday reported last week that the forms fail to capture some of the ways county contractors have typically made controversial donations.

The forms — among Nassau’s response to contracting scandals last year — must list money given by companies and their principals to the campaigns of all county elected officials and candidates.

But contributions to political party committees and local clubs, which often have close ties to county leaders, don’t need to be disclosed.

Federal prosecutors are investigating a $12 million county contract signed by County Executive Edward Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, on the same day in 2014 the vendor contributed to the Walker’s Hicksville GOP club.

The Democrats’ bill would add political clubs and committees to the disclosures, as well as donations made by companies affiliated with the vendors and people living at the same address as company principals.

“Taxpayers are better protected from public corruption and we as legislators will know more of the facts prior to a vote,” Abrahams said of the proposed amendments to a law all the Democrats voted for.

A spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment Friday, saying they had yet to see the Democrats’ bill. Gonsalves, who rarely calls Democratic proposals to the floor of the legislature for a vote, has defended the new disclosure law as sufficient.

Mangano’s county attorney, Carnell Foskey, said the new law was designed to increase transparency but noted that it would be “unlawful” for legislators to factor political donations into their contract votes.

“Political organizations have no role in the awarding of contracts and all of their contributions are publicly available on the Board of Elections website,” Foskey said Friday.

The debate comes as the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state board over county finances, is in talks to revise the stricter contract review guidelines it passed in January.

NIFA, which must approve all contracts over $50,000, had added vendor disclosures, including contributions to political clubs and committees, to their requirements, but delayed implementation as county leaders pursued their own contracting reforms.

With Mangano hiring an investigations commissioner and procurement compliance chief, NIFA is expected to soon institute their disclosures.

But chairman Adam Barsky acknowledged last week that the board was discussing removing the political club and committee requirements after the Mangano administration raised concerns with those aspects not being consistent with the county’s disclosure.

“The issue is that’s not currently the law,” Barsky said. “If the legislature passed a law saying the vendor must disclose that, then we’d require it.”

Speaking of NIFA’s role in the contracting process, Barsky said the board chiefly wants to ensure Nassau has internal systems to prevent corruption, and that it provides information to ensure contracts fit into its financial plans.

“NIFA is a seven-member board with a staff of five people and we’re not going to be the police of all things,” Barsky said.

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