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6 of NY's best-funded PACS found to have filed incomplete or faulty records

Risa Sugarman, enforcement council for the New York

Risa Sugarman, enforcement council for the New York State Board of Elections speaks during a board meeting on Sept. 26, 2014 in Albany, N.Y. Credit: ALBANY TIMES UNION / SKIP DICKSTEIN

ALBANY -- Two new units looking into the finances of political campaigns over the last year have found that six of New York's best-funded political committees filed incomplete or faulty records while seven criminal referrals have been made in 129 other investigations.

The Board of Elections' new enforcement unit hasn't released the identity of those campaigns that are the subjects of the criminal referrals to prosecutors. A report is underway that will provide information on the state and local cases.

The investigations were prompted by tips from the public, news accounts and the enforcement unit's own digging, said Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel of the unit.

Eight cases have been closed where no violations were proved, she said.

"We do everything to keep the information [received] from the public confidential because we intend do a deep dive on what money is donated and how it's spent," Sugarman told Newsday on Friday. "That's what financial disclosure is all about."

The Board of Elections' separate compliance unit focuses on reviewing thousands of campaign finance records required of politicians and parties each year. The unit's review found incomplete or faulty records of some contributions and spending by the state campaign committees for the Assembly's Democratic majority, the Senate's Republican majority, the state Republican and Conservative parties, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, and the state Independence Party.

Only the Independence Party, which ended 2014 with a small negative cash balance, hasn't fixed the deficiencies and remains out of compliance, according to records provided to Newsday under the state Freedom of Information Law.

Party spokesman Thomas Connolly said the problem was the result of an oversight after the party's treasurer became seriously ill and a new hire is now fixing the errors.

The compliance unit reviewed 13 campaign committees with multimillion-dollar budgets in its first year. It looked for deficiencies including missing check numbers, spending that wasn't itemized, and incorrect use of forms used to track contributions and spending, all of which could cloud donations and spending.

"In the past we've been criticized for lacking the will to do things," said John Conklin, spokesman for the state Board of Elections. "But we've always said it was about resources. I think this shows with the right resources, we do have the will to do real auditing."

The new units were created last year in ethics legislation the State Legislature approved after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission on public corruption and after a series of campaign finance scandals.

Deficiencies found by the compliance unit can lead to criminal referrals to the enforcement unit or prosecutors.

The findings showed:

The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee improperly transferred funds and accepted at least one donation from a partnership that exceeded the $2,500 limit.

The Senate Republican Campaign Committee had missing check numbers, missing or incomplete addresses for some donations, incorrect use of the "schedule" or forms from some transactions, and payments to individuals without itemizing.

The Republican State Committee had missing check numbers, incorrect use of forms and coding for spending, and failed to itemize spending listed as "other."

The state Conservative Party had some credit card payments that were not itemized.

No deficiencies were reported for the state Democratic Committee; the state Conservative Campaign Committee; for two entities of the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee; Andrew Cuomo 2018; the DiNapoli 2014 committee for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; or for Eric Schneiderman 2014, the campaign committee of the attorney general.

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