The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday overrode a veto by County...

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday overrode a veto by County Executive Steve Bellone, shown, of a bill to kill the county's public campaign finance program. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County's $2.6 million public campaign finance program died Tuesday as county lawmakers voted 13-5 to override County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of Republican-sponsored legislation to end the program.

All 11 majority Republican legislators voted to override, along with Democrats Al Krupski, of Cutchogue, and Thomas Donnelly, of Deer Park.

Legislators Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) and Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) voted against the override measure.

Last month, the Republican-controlled legislature voted 11-4 — with two Democrats and one Republican abstaining — to end the program, which would have established a 4-1 public match of public campaign funds.

The program, which was set to go into effect for the first time in the 2023 election cycle, would have set individual contribution limits and created a campaign finance board.

It would have used revenue from Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. to provide matching funds to candidates running for county office who agreed to fundraising parameters. 

Bellone, a Democrat, last week vetoed the legislation to end the program, saying the bill would build up financial barriers preventing candidates from running for office while giving special interests increased control of local government.

“Today, Suffolk squandered an opportunity to be a model in our state and nation for reducing the influence of money in our politics and helping to restore faith in government," Bellone said in a statement Tuesday.

Legislative Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffery (R-Lindenhurst) and other backers of the override said public money shouldn't be used to support partisan candidates.

“People shouldn’t be forced to finance and supplement candidates whose ideals they don’t share. It’s not the American way,” McCaffery said shortly before the vote Tuesday.

Public campaign financing, which has been used in New York City for years, increases the influence of small donors and diversifies the ranks of elected officials, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, a nonprofit law and policy organ­iz­a­tion.

But GOP legislators said Tuesday funding for Suffolk's public campaign finance program could be put to better use for public safety initiatives such as gunshot-locator technology or to fully staff the county Department of Social Services.

Richberg, the legislative minority leader, said during debate Tuesday there was enough funding available from OTB's Jake's 58 hotel and casino in Islandia to fund both the campaign finance program and public safety initiatives.

“This isn’t an either or” proposal, Richberg said.

But Donnelly warned of the potential for abuse of public campaign finance funds.

Donnelly noted the case of former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who was indicted in April on charges he illegally funneled New York City campaign matching funds to his unsuccessful city comptroller campaign.

“I would remind most folks that the possibility of corruption … is certainly very real,” Donnelly said.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who backed the override, said he did not believe the county campaign finance program would curb the political influence of Suffolk’s police unions in local elections.

“That’s the big elephant in the room because that’s what we’re all talking about here,” Trotta said,

Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Police Benevolent Association, Suffolk's largest police union, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a nonprofit activist group, said public campaign financing encourages a more diverse candidate field and reduces the influence of big money donors.

"This is a dark day for democracy in Suffolk County, which needs a legislature that’s reflective of its citizens and not deep-pocketed special interests," Tyson said in a statement.

Also Tuesday, the county legislature voted 16-1 to approve two agreements with the owners of the proposed Sunrise Wind farm to run power cables under county parkland and roads.

Trotta voted against the proposals citing the unknown impact on the cost of energy and Legis. Trish Bergin (R-East Islip) recused herself.

When completed, the cable will extend 17.5 miles from the beach under Smith Point County Park, up William Floyd Parkway and the Long Island Expressway to a LIPA substation in Holbrook.

The cable will bring power from wind arrays in the waters off the Massachusetts/Rhode Island coast.

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