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Board of Elections freezing accounts of campaigns

Cyril Josh Barker | 9/26/2013, 3:02 p.m.

Reports indicate that the state Board of Elections is freezing bank accounts of campaign committees that violate the law when it comes to finances.

Last week, letters were sent to representatives of committees who have violated election laws. The letter stated that their funds would be held unless they pay their debts. A judge can also decide whether they have to pay.

The letters reportedly contain subpoenas and include four pages of questions about assets to be filled out and returned. If debtors don’t pay, they could be ruled in contempt of court. Nearly 70 percent of judgements are outstanding, which has led the state Board of Election to step in.

“There has been a long-standing discussion about whether we have the resources or statutory authority to take additional efforts to collect those unpaid judgments,” said Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin. “When we know a committee has funds in their accounts, Commissioner [Douglas] Kellner has pushed to have additional action taken against those committees.”

Advocacy organization Common Cause New York has several reports of violations ranging from issues of contributions to questions about tax breaks for certain contributors. The new policy could curb violations to campaign finance laws.

For example, a recent Common Cause New York analysis revealed that the state Senate is the top target of Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) money and that the overwhelming majority flows to lawmakers who represent districts outside of New York City.

Since 2011, REBNY and its leadership have given $3.2 million to candidates and committees in the state Senate. Over 73 percent of contributions to candidates went to districts outside of New York City. Similarly, over $2.4 million (75 percent) went to Senate Republicans. By comparison, Senate Democrats received $500,000 while the four-member Independent Democratic Conference received $308,000.

“Our analysis shows a skillful and calculated manipulation of all of the weaknesses in New York state’s campaign finance laws by New York City’s real estate industry, which uses every trick in the book to insure that the investment they make in plentiful campaign contributions garners an extraordinarily large return at the expense of New York City’s tenants and taxpayers,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

The Fair Elections for New York campaign called on the newly created Moreland Commission last month to subpoena all relevant information related to contributions as part of their sweeping investigation of corruption in New York state.

“It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic illustration of the havoc campaign contributions can play with lives and needs of ordinary New Yorkers and why New York state’s campaign finance laws must be changed,” said Jessica Wisneski, legislative director for Citizen Action of New York, on behalf of the Fair Elections for New York campaign. “The situation illustrated by this new analysis of REBNY campaign spending highlights the urgent need to pass Fair Elections.”