Advocates for changes in policing called on Suffolk County officials Tuesday to reject campaign contributions from county unions, saying elected officials create a perception of conflict of interest when they accept money from unions for whom they approve multimillion-dollar labor contracts.
Eight Suffolk residents, including two leaders of Long Island community groups, testified at a public hearing in support of a bill by Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) to cap donations by public employee unions and county contractors at $500 per county legislative candidate per election, and $3,000 per candidate for countywide office.
Supporters said the measure would eliminate the appearance of pay-to-play in county politics.
"You’re supposed to be signing off on contracts that will help govern [police], but meanwhile you’re taking their money. You can’t do both," said Shanequa Levin, co-founder of the Long Island Black Alliance.
County and police union officials said such arguments amount to a "false narrative."
"Campaign contributions do not influence public policy," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s spokesman Derek Poppe said.
The prospects for his legislation are unclear, as Democrats control the legislature by a 10-7 margin. A vacancy will be filled next year by Nicholas Caracappa, a Conservative Party member.
Last year, the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, a Super PAC run by Suffolk’s police unions, spent nearly $1.5 million on county races, including more than $830,000 to support Bellone's reelection.
The foundation’s spending did not go directly to candidates’ campaigns but was used for independent efforts, such as mailers, to help them get elected.
Since 2019, all union contracts approved by the county have contained raises.
Base salaries for top-step police officers have increased from $108,608 in 2011 to $142,922 this year, according to the county legislature’s budget review office.
Trotta said his bill will "help stop the corruption. It will help free legislators up to vote for their constiuents, rather than the special interests."
Lawmakers said campaign donations don't influence their decisions.
"If we lose [campaign] money, then we lose money, but we vote with our conscience," Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said.
Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said state law already prohibits county officials from accepting any more than $40,000 from any one entity.
Trotta's bill also would not apply to Super PACs, which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to spend unlimited sums to support campaigns.
"I don’t believe that a union contribution, as clearly legitimized by the Supreme Court of the United States, is any different than a contribution made by any other individual or organization who has the same right," PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said.
Another public hearing on the bill will be held Dec. 15
Also Tuesday, the county legislature advanced a proposal to extend the Southwest Sewer District along Carleton Avenue in Central Islip.
The project is a key piece of the hamlet’s $10 million downtown revitalization plan.
The project would extend sewers 10 blocks from Smith Street north to the Long Island Rail Road station. Officials said the project would encourage new development, including restaurants and housing, in the downtown.
The legislature determined the sewer project would have no significant adverse impacts, allowing it to move forward under state law.
"Today’s approval by the Suffolk County Legislature is a vital step forward that will propel downtown Central Islip into becoming a vibrant transit-oriented epicenter," Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement Tuesday.