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Independence Party leaders use endorsement for profit, Jay Jacobs alleges

Nassau County Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs speaks

Nassau County Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs speaks during the Nassau County Democrats Annual Spring dinner fundraiser at the Crest Hollow Country Club on April 15, 2013. Photo Credit: Ana Maria Rico

ALBANY - State Independence Party leaders have leveraged the party's endorsement to enrich themselves, earning more than $1 million over the last six years from campaign contributions, Nassau County Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said in a letter being sent to fellow Democrats.

Jacobs, who is leading a campaign to urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to forgo the endorsement of the minor party, said the Independence Party has had a "corrosive effect" on state politics, citing scandals over the last few years involving the party, including in New York City and on Long Island.

Jacobs also detailed payments to Independence chairman Frank MacKay, saying he and other "top party leaders have taken over $1.5 million out of" party coffers since 2008. This includes payroll, along with consulting fees and tax benefits. MacKay, of Rocky Point, got the bulk of the $1.5 million, according to Jacobs.

"It believes in nothing and advocates for nothing," Jacobs wrote of the Independence Party. "It is a transactional entity that exists for the financial and influential benefit of Frank MacKay and a handful of other official and unofficial leaders."

A Newsday review of Independence Party expenditures through various party committees showed MacKay received more than $500,000 in pay, consulting fees and reimbursements since 2008; party vice chairman Tom Connolly received $242,000. Party treasurer Robert G. Pilnick received about $25,000 over the six years, $7,362 in payroll.

During that time, the party raised more than $7 million in campaign contributions, more than $5 million of which went to benefit candidates. Jacobs charges that the bulk of the remainder goes to party leaders.

The review found the party also listed nearly $300,000 in "unitemized payroll," with no recipients listed. MacKay, Connolly and Pilnick were the only three individuals paid through payroll disbursements during that time. Democrats contend the three leaders probably received all of the unitemized payroll payments.

Jacobs has filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections regarding the unitemized payroll, noting that state law requires any expenditure of $50 or more to be detailed. "It is crucial that your office investigate the lump-sum payments," Jacobs' complaint said.

MacKay didn't return messages to respond to the criticism about pay and reimbursements. He did respond to the complaint Jacobs filed with the state about the Independence Party's unitemized payroll, calling it a "tactic to mask his manipulation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in and out of the accounts of the Nassau County Democratic Party."

Further, Newsday's analysis found the party paid more than $200,000 in payroll taxes during the six-year period. Democrats contend this should count as a benefit for Independence Party leaders, pushing the accumulated total closer to $1.5 million.

In an email, MacKay addressed only the complaint Jacobs filed regarding unitemized payroll. MacKay said: "This complaint is the rantings of a man who was caught with both hands in the cookie jar. It is baseless and without merit."

MacKay noted the Independence Party has filed a complaint about loans by Jacobs and his private summer camp firms to the Nassau Democratic committee. Jacobs called the $200,000 contribution a mistake by his accountant who incorrectly wired the money from the corporate account instead of his personal account.

Jacobs has led a charge to persuade major party candidates to decline the Independence nomination this year.

In addition, the Democratic Progressive Caucus is trying to generate a petition that would urge Cuomo to decline the minor party's endorsement. Cuomo ran with the endorsement in 2010. Cuomo's likely opponent, Republican Rob Astorino, has said he wouldn't accept the endorsement -- although it was almost certain he wouldn't get it anyway.

New York, unlike other states, lets candidates be listed multiple times on the ballot under various party lines. A party must get at least 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial race to maintain status as an official party and a spot on all state-office ballots. If not Cuomo, the party would have to choose another candidate to try to reach the vote threshold.

With Adam Playford

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