Sunday, September 6, 2009

State Pols Using Campaign Funds for Almost Anything They Want

From by Billy Parker:
How much do our elected officials in Albany get by on their salaries as legislators and how much of their regular expenditures come from campaign money raised for nonexistent election battles? The Daily News has an extensive piece today investigating just what state senators and assemblymen are using their campaign funds for—all within the scope of the law.

Campaign money is not supposed to be used for personal funds, but the last time a politician was nailed for violating that by the Board of Elections was 2005 when Brooklyn Assemblyman Clarence Norman cashed a $5,000 check made out to his campaign. A spokesman for the Board admits that they don't have the manpower to look into the over $6 million a year that comes into the campaigns run by members of the Senate and Assembly. Blair Horner of the NY Public Interest Research Group calls the law "too vague" and "a joke" and tells the paper, "The vast majority have no serious opposition. The vast majority of the money comes from interest groups. So what you have is Albany's lobbying elite subsidizing the lifestyle of elected officials."

Among the campaign expenditures the News uncovered in combing through over $19 million in contributions were:

  • Senate President Malcolm Smith—$1,241 at Pamper Me, a St. Albans spa on gift certificates for staff and supporters (a spokesperson denied Smith used any himself)
  • Senate Majority Leader John Sampson—$17,554 on three separate lines with bills running about $600 a month over the past two years (his treasurer said he has a "bad habit" of losing phones)
  • Senator Martin Golden—$134,090 on his family's Bay Ridge catering hall, used for official luncheons and service projects, such as giving flu shots to senior citizens
  • Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx—$32,000 on food in the last two years (a staffer said, "He enjoys good food. He likes to eat well.")
  • Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV of Harlem—$30,000 in meals, gas, stamps, tolls, parking and worldwide travel, uncluding thousands on a trip to Ireland ("to familiarize himself with Irish constituents")
  • Brooklyn Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny—$1,000 on small purchases in various European cities
  • Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera—$54,000 on his final year of Mercedes payments until upgrading to an Audi and continuing to use campaign funds to pay for that in 2007
When asked to discuss campaign financing by the News, Assemblyman Powell offered to take the reporter out to lunch on his campaign's dime and acknowledged he took staff out to eat all the time. Powell said, "It could be KFC, it could be a five-star restaurant. I'll take them out to lunch because I'm going to get reimbursed anyway." NYPIRG's Horner conclusion on the finance laws: "Enforcement is nonexistent. It's a disgrace."

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