Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Teeth

Yesterday's Utica Observer Dispatch makes the case that campaign finance reform is desperately needed in New York . We certainly agree.

To illustrate their point, the editors state that Majority Leader Bruno was recently caught using the state Senate GOP's campaign funds to help cover legal costs associated with a federal investigation of his activities. As the OD points out, even New York's lax campaign finance laws may not have left room for this questionable use of campaign finance funds:

The use of state campaign funds for legal defense purposes by New York politicians is permitted when the investigation is "related to the political campaign or the holding of public office." That wasn't the case here. The ongoing federal investigation involves Bruno's private dealings with business associates and friends and the flow of state funds to companies with ties to those business associates and friends. Bruno has denied any wrongdoing.

This got us thinking about a very important issue that often gets overlooked when discussing New York's campaign finance laws. Yes, you could cut New York's campaign contribution limits in half, and they would still be higher than almost any other limits in the country; yes, New York has among the worst set of regulations restricting personal use of campaign finance funds (allowing legislators to use funds for things like purchasing pool covers and buying pet food for the office cat); but even where it does have actual restrictions, the enforcement provisions of New York's campaign finance laws have virtually no teeth.

The penalty for violating New York's campaign finance laws is frequently less than a slap on the wrist. When New York finally gets to re-writing its campaign finance laws, making sure that they are followed will be extremely important. The new laws must have teeth.

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