Originally Published: March 26, 2014
Board notifies citizens union it has ended “investigation” into assemblymember it never started
Fails to take action to register 224 political clubs and address 103,805 violations of campaign finance law
Inaction indicative of systemic failures highlighted by Moreland commission
As Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders discuss making enforcement more meaningful and independent at the Board of Elections as part of comprehensive campaign finance reform, the State Board of Elections has closed an “investigation” into Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo it never conducted. The action comes sixteen months after Citizens Union filed a complaint regarding allegations of electioneering submitted in court during the September 2012 primary election.
This decision is the latest example of the State Board’s failure to enforce election law. It comes after nearly a year of inaction in response to Citizens Union’s claim that 224 political clubs – involved in $2.2 million in unreported campaign activity – failed to register as political committees. This lack of action takes place despite the State Board issuing anAdvisory Opinion1 in July stating organizations and committees that endorse candidates must register, as political clubs typically do.
The Board continues to take little to no action on a report issued by the New York Public Interest Research Group identifying over 100,000 violations of campaign finance law.
These three matters show how essential strong and effective campaign finance enforcement is, as the moment of opportunity has arrived for the governor and the legislature to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform that includes public matching funds.
The original complaint affecting Arroyo was filed by Citizens Union with the New York City Board of Elections, and called for the City Board to investigate affidavits and photographs submitted to a court panel in a related case in the Appellate Division, First Department. The case alleged the Assembywoman and her staff were telling voters how to vote at a poll site in the South Bronx, and that poll workers did not stop her because she was their boss and paid their salaries. Citizens Union did not take a position on whether the allegations were true but believed they warranted an investigation.
The City Board in response simply reiterated actions taken on primary day to stop electioneering at those poll sites and, in conflict with election law2, determined it did not have investigatory authority, stating, “the Board is not an investigative agency and has no criminal enforcement authority…Having no direct knowledge of the other allegations made in your letter, it is inappropriate for this Board to take further action at this time.” Citizens Union then brought the complaint to the State Board in May 2013. The State Board decided 10 months later the City Board had “taken appropriate action to remedy the complaints” even though the City Board merely repeated what it had done on primary day to stop electioneering and denied its authority in law to investigate potential wrongdoing after it occurred.
“The handling of this complaint by the City and State Board and their joint failure to exercise their own authority and conduct an investigation and the State Board’s inaction on 224 political clubs registration demonstrates why Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders must reform the Board of Elections as part of comprehensive campaign finance reform,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director at Citizens Union. “Despite the scathing review of how the State Board handles complaints by the Moreland Commission, little appears to have changed at the State Board.”
“After the Board repeatedly failed to act on campaign finance violations and created new loopholes in the law, it was difficult to imagine the situation might actually be worse than anybody expected. However, the Moreland Commission’s investigations managed to paint an even more disheartening portrait,” said Bill Mahoney, Research Coordinator at NYPIRG. “Their response to the complaint by Citizens Union is further evidence that the current system of campaign finance administration and enforcement is a failure.”
“Citizens Union called on the City and State Boards to conduct an investigation, and it took them 16 months to determine the actions they took on Primary Day before the complaint was filed remedied the alleged electioneering,” said Alex Camarda, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Citizens Union. “We didn’t ask the City Board to review its response on Election Day. We requested they investigate electioneering by an elected official and poll workers inside a poll site. They failed to do so.”