NEW YORK STATE — The laws in New York State regulating campaigns and elections are voluminous and complex, and they run to many hundreds of pages. On the website of New York State Board of Elections (BOE), there is a 132-page election handbook that attempts to boil them all down, but even so, it is dense reading.
But after analyzing both for a number of hours, it seems that anyone who plans to raise and/or spend more than $1,000 on a local political campaign is required to file certain documents with the BOE, regardless of who does the raising and/or spending.
Under election law a “political committee” is defined, in part, as “combination of one or more persons operating or cooperating to aid or to promote the success or defeat of a political party or principle or of any ballot proposal; or to aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.…”
So if a friend were to give a candidate, for instance, $2,000 for a campaign, and if the friend is actively working to elect that candidate, then that $2,000 must be declared to the state BOE either by the candidate or the friend, depending on how the campaign is structured. If the friend is not actively working to elect the friend, then the candidate or an authorized committee must report the $2,000 contribution to the state BOE.
In explaining who must file campaign finance documents with the BOE, the election guide says, that any “local candidate/committee raising or spending or expecting to raise or spend more than $1,000” in a year must file certain documents with the BOE.
It seems pretty clear that if more than $1,000 is raised or spent or is expected to be raised and spent, the state BOE must be informed about it, regardless of whether that money comes from the candidate, a friend, a group of friends, a formal committee, a corporation or any other source.
Further, it’s not hard to reach the $1,000 mark. Sending a mailing, for instance, costs about 75 cents per recipient, so if a candidate sends a mailing to 1,000 registered voters, the cost would be about $750. Even if the printing company is a supporter and offers to print the cards for free, that doesn’t change the calculation because the BOE considers “anything of value” to be a “contribution” which must be figured into the total.
According to the BOE, failure to miss one required filing could result in a fine for $1,000, and missing three filings could result in a fine of $10,000. Local candidates who cross the $1,000 threshold are required to file multiple documents multiple times.
There are many people active in local politics who have not studied the laws. On May 7, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) published a report saying that they had discovered more that 100,000 campaign filing violations over a two-year period.
NYPIRG admitted that many of the violations were minor, such as not including the address of a vendor on a filing form, which is required. Still, violations can be punishable by fines.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the high number of violations and the lax enforcement of the laws were “unacceptable,” and the state needs to address the problem.
Bill Mahoney, the research coordinator for NYPIRG, said that at the current moment the state BOE has no investigators.