The state’s campaign finance laws are designed to protect us from electing unscrupulous politicians.
They’re designed to protect us from candidates who don’t want us to know who is influence their positions with money.
They’re designed so that voters can identify any connection between political donors and expose favoritism in legislation or the allocation of taxpayer money.
Penalties for violating campaign finance rules are designed to discourage secrecy, favoritism and corruption.
Yet here in New York, if you violate the rules, don’t turn in disclosure forms on time or fail to properly identify donors as required by law, there’s a good chance that nothing is going to happen to you.
A major problem is that there are two government boards that oversee campaign finance activity in the state.
And one of them isn’t doing its job.
The Public Campaign Finance Board (PCFB) enforces laws related to public campaign finance, while the Chief Enforcement Counsel of the state Board of Elections (CEC) oversees all other campaign finance laws.
Among those good government groups and legal associations calling on the state Legislature to strengthen enforcement are the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters of New York State, the New York City Bar Association, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Reinvent Albany.
According to those groups, the CEC is the problem.
It doesn’t enforce filing deadlines, they say. It doesn’t act when candidates fail to disclose the identities of campaign contributors. Hundreds of candidates and political committees just get away with violating the law, they say, and they do it with impunity because they know they won’t get in trouble.
This situation needs to change.
The groups are calling on the Legislature to create a single oversight board with enforcement authority to provide consistent enforcement of state campaign finance laws and to ensure candidates aren’t subject to two potential enforcement bodies.
Short of creating a single organization, the good government groups would like to see the CEC reform its administrative hearing process, streamline procedures for enforcing routine violations, establish comprehensive penalties and require more transparency in enforcement decisions so the public has more knowledge, ability and confidence in reporting potential violations.
Having laws on the books that aren’t being enforced is the same as having no laws at all.
The state needs to quickly remedy this dire situation to ensure fair elections and to protect the public from unethical and fraudulent conduct by candidates and political parties.