WASHINGTON — The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association’s federal super PAC last year failed to file required reports on time for its independent expenditures on ads for three Long Island Republican congressional candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records examined by Newsday.
On Thursday, six months after the election, the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, created and solely funded by the Suffolk County PBA, finally sent the FEC a complete report in the required format of its $73,759 in independent expenditures for mobile billboard ads.
Those ads began in early October and circulated until the Nov. 3 election in support of the reelection of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and to elect Republican candidates Andrew Garbarino, who won in the 2nd District, and George Santos, who lost in the 3rd District.
At the time, the super PAC filed reports about some of its ad spending, but not all of it. And it almost never filed on time, according to filings and FEC notices to the PAC about its failure to submit required reports.
Federal campaign law requires PACs to report independent expenditures that add up to $10,000 or more within 48 hours of the appearance of the ads it runs for or against candidates, and, in the final 10 days before the election, to file those reports within 24 hours.
The purpose of the reports, campaign lawyers said, is transparency to allow voters to know who is underwriting the ads that are supposed to be run independently and without coordination with any candidate’s campaign committee.
Potentially, the PBA’s super PAC could face FEC disciplinary action, including a fine, such as other PACs with tardy or missed reporting, campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel said. The FEC, however, has not publicly announced what, if any, action it will take.
Miguel Vias, the PBA PAC’s treasurer who has been a paid Suffolk County SBA trustee, did not respond to a request for answers or an interview.
But Vias acknowledged errors in a note to the FEC about missed 48-hour reports and the tardy reporting of independent expenditures after the general election date.
"We have reviewed the report and realized the report was not filed," Vias wrote in response to questions about two missing reports.
Vias offered a reason for the PAC’s failure to follow federal election law and FEC rules by saying that "this was our first election subject to this requirement, as well as electronic filing. We have instituted corrective measures to prevent a recurrence of this error."
The Suffolk County PBA is better known for its local super PACs registered in New York state. One of them, also called the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, which raises funds from members through a special assessment.
That state-registered committee is one of the channels that the Suffolk County PBA has used to become, as Newsday reported in March, one of the Long Island’s most powerful political forces through political donations and spending, despite state restrictions on campaign finance.
The PBA established the federal Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation in 2014, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allowed the creation of super PACs. Joseph Link, the third-highest officer of the Suffolk County PBA, served as its first treasurer.
That year, the PBA PAC paid $17,240 to Billboard on Wheels, a Ronkonkoma company, for mobile billboard ads for then-Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, who represented the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses much of Suffolk County.
After that, filings show, the PAC went unfunded until last October. During that time, the FEC sent the PAC six notices for failing to file required periodic reports.
On Oct. 8, the PBA’s Public Education Fund put $50,000 into the PAC, hired the consulting firm of Jamestown Associates in Philadelphia to design the ads and contracted with Billboards on Wheels to display them.
A week later, that PBA fund dropped $50,000 more into the PAC, and on Nov. 3 added another $40,000, for a total of $140,000, FEC filings show. The PAC reported it had $66,244 in cash on hand at the end of March.