The state Board of Elections periodically levies “modest” fines (usually $100 to $1,000) against political campaign committees that file financial reports late, but it has taken no enforcement action against 2,328 active committees with a total of $31.2 million in the bank that have not disclosed any transactions for Jan. 15-July 15, according to a new report from the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“Many of these ‘missing in action’ committees have not filed in a year or more. The fact that the Board does not perform any audits raises the disturbing possibility that some of these candidates have simply pocketed the money,” NYPIRG said in a statement. “While the vast majority of these filers may not have engaged in serious violations of the law, the Board’s anemic oversight and enforcement creates the impression that non-compliance with the law carries little risk of real consequences.
The Board of Elections has long been criticized for its lack of enforcement, and for not having enough staff or funding to adequately police campaign committees. The NYPIRG report said part of the enforcement problem likely is due to its “inherently partisan structure.”
Of the 2,328 non-filers, 622 are committees that have not filed, often for several years, the report said. They have a total of $12.2 million in the bank. The remainder of the committees have filed recently, but they have submitted “no activity reports” for the past few reporting periods.
Local committees include one called Recall Ball, referring to Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson. The last time it reported any transactions was in 2008, when Ball was an assemblyman. There was a total of $200,000 in the account. A separate committee called the “Truth About Ball,” had $50,000 in 2008, and no filings have been made since then. Friends of John Sarcone, a Putnam Valley attorney who ran for Assembly, had $11,431 in the bank when it last filed in January 2002, NYPIRG found.
The Independence Party, Rockland County Committee, last submitted a campaign-finance report in 2007, when it had $18,335 on hand.
Friends of Adam Bradley, a former state assemblyman and ex-mayor of White Plains had $176,131 on hand when the committee last filed a full report in January 2011. It filed a “no activity” report last month. Bradley was found guilty of criminal charges related to spousal abuse in 2010 and currently is charged with a probation violation. The Committee for Michael Kaplowitz had $10,016 in January and filed a no-activity report last month, the report said.
With so much money in the bank, “it is unlikely that each of them truly have not received as much as a dime in interest or paid a dollar in bank fees over the course of several years,” NYPIRG’s report said. “Further, since the Board never appears to conduct audits of filers, it is impossible to know if any of these candidates and/or their treasurers simply pocketed the remainder of their funds after losing an election.”
The board received reports for the six-month period from 3,639 committees as of Aug. 13, with a total of $217.3 million in the bank.
NYPIRG also found that hundreds of donors each year give more money to political candidates and committees than is allowed under New York law, which has the highest limits of any state that limits contributions. Many candidates don’t disclose large contributions received in the run-up to Election Day, a violation of state law. Thousands of filings “obfuscate the identity of donors or the purpose of expenditures through the inclusion of incomplete or incorrect information,” the report said.