Note: Updated throughout.
Political candidates and committees in New York tallied up at least 103,805 violations of state campaign-finance laws since 2011, according to an Albany-based good-government group.
The New York Public Interest Research Group detailed the violations — nearly all of which went unpunished — in a report released Tuesday. They range from 278 corporations giving more than the state-mandated limit of $5,000 total to more than 44,800 instances of a campaign donation reported with no address listed for the person making the payment.
The report covers breaches uncovered in filings made between January 2011 and January 2013, according to Bill Mahoney, the paper’s author.
“These range in severity quite a bit,” said Mahoney, NYPIRG’s research coordinator. “Some of them are flagrant violations of the state’s contribution limits. Others are minor peccadilloes that show a complete disregard for the law because they occur in such frequent numbers.”
Among those with a high number of minor violations were Sen. Greg Ball, a Patterson Republican who reported 995 campaign expenditures of at least $49 with an incomplete or missing address for the entity being paid. Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis is second on the list with 479 incomplete addresses, followed by Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Niagara County, with 411.
Justin Wagner, Ball’s 2012 opponent, was fourth with 379.
Responding to the report, a spokesman for Ball said the violations will be corrected.
“We will provide all the information necessary and (are) glad that NYPIRG has brought it to our attention,” said Joe Bachmeier, the spokesman.
John Conklin, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said the NYPIRG report was “clearly designed to be sensationalist.” The board’s workload has increased since 2006, when it was assigned oversight for local-level campaigns and their filings went from about 1,500 to 12,000, Conklin said.
“(NYPIRG’s) own staff admits that most of these violations are relatively minor,” Conklin said. “I would point out that they mostly deal with local committees — town, village, county committees. It’s not a secret and we’ve made the point repeatedly that when we got responsibility for local filings in 2006, we didn’t get a concomitant increase in staff to deal with that.”
The report was released ahead of a Senate Election Committee hearing on campaign-finance reform, which kicked off Tuesday morning. Senate Republicans have been staunchly opposed to a public campaign financing system, which would match small donations to campaigns with public funds.
The hearing, which will focus on a potential public-financing system, was knocked by good-government groups as a “sham.” Proponents of public campaign financing rallied outside of the hearing, chanting loudly after several were kept out of the low-capacity room.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through a statement issued by his office, weighed in on the NYPIRG report:
“NYPIRG’s report is further evidence that we cannot wait on passing real reforms to our election system. The buildup of over 100,000 campaign finance violations over the last two years is unacceptable, and a clear sign that the current self-policing system at the Board of Elections does not work. The people of New York deserve an independent enforcement unit to pursue these violations and protect the integrity of our democratic system. Now more than ever there is no excuse for delay. The common sense reforms I have proposed give district attorneys the power to aggressively pursue corruption, create fairer elections, expand the voter registration process, and improve ballot access must be passed this session.”