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Democrat and Chronicle Op-Ed
New York’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws offer elected officials plenty of wiggle room when it comes to how campaign funds are spent. The state board that oversees those laws allows lawmakers to wiggle even further.
The state Board of Elections has done little to discourage some state lawmakers’ fast-and-loose mentality when it comes to election funds. A spokesman for the New York Public Interest Research Group says the good-government organization examined the board’s rulings over the past five years and found “they never take action on anything.”
That’s too bad, given the suspect spending that some lawmakers engage in. Vague guidelines offer wide latitude and lawmakers aren’t afraid to jump through the loopholes, using campaign coffers to cover legal fees, restaurant tabs, season tickets at professional sporting venues or, in the infamous case of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a $1,300 pool cover. (Bruno cited political functions he held at his home.)
Oversight is only part of the problem. The rules themselves are laughably lax. That’s where Gov. Andrew Cuomo comes in. Despite pledges to tackle the issue, campaign finance reform remains on the governor’s to-do list; he should make it a top priority if and when lawmakers return to Albany after the November elections.
There is much to do: Contribution limits (the highest in the nation) should be lowered; disclosure requirements should be tightened; the public-financing system Cuomo called for in his State of the State address should be hammered out.
But oversight of the spending side of the equation is just as porous.
The Board of Elections is either unable or unwilling to provide strict enforcement. If the former, it should be given the tools and staff it needs to do its job. If the latter, it should be given the heave-ho and a separate board created or designated to oversee campaign finance laws and compel lawmakers’ adherence to them.