In early January, County Republicans filed their required campaign finance reports. And upon first analysis, it would appear that there may be a serious problem with the way the GOP paid for its failed effort to disenfranchise dual residency voters.
So, are you ready to digest some obscure-but-important campaign finance rules? Sure ’ya are.
In New York State, the major political parties are allowed to set up two main types of accounts. The more usual type of account supports candidates and campaigns by taking out ads, purchasing lawn signs, printing giant banners, mailing out flyers, and so on. The other, more specialized type is called a “Housekeeping” account, and is meant to handle the (even) more mundane, ongoing, overhead expenses of running a political party—such as renting copiers and hiring a secretary. And that’s where the story starts to get more interesting.
The State has clearly set forth limits on what a party can and can’t with Housekeeping funds. Here is how those limits are described on both page 7 and page 28 of the New York State Board of Elections Campaign Finance Handbook:
“Housekeeping” is a term that refers to the receipts and expenditures [...] used to maintain permanent headquarters and staff, and to carry on ordinary activities that are not for the express purpose of promoting the candidacy of specific candidates (see NYS Election Law Section 14-124 (3)).
These limits are again made explicit in the State Handbook’s definition of Housekeeping committees on page 111:
Housekeeping Committee – an optional “committee” that is only allowed to be registered by a party or constituted committee for the sole purpose of reporting “Housekeeping Receipts and Expenditures” made and received pursuant to NYS Election Law Section 14-124 (3), to maintain a permanent party headquarters and staff and carry on ordinary activities that are not for the express purpose of promoting the candidacy of specific candidates.
Got that? You can use Housekeeping funds to, say, pay the rent on your party HQ or buy some filing cabinets. You can't use them to advance the interests of specific candidates.
And that’s where it would appear that the Columbia County Republicans may have gotten themselves into hot water. Because—as previously reported here—the County GOP used its Housekeeping account to pay the costs of that failed two-month battle to disenfranchise absentee voters.
Court records show that the futile lawsuits crafted (I use the word loosely) by attorneys John Ciampoli and James Walsh were filed on behalf of:
Other than Fingar, all the folks listed above—Young, Kiely, Tyree, Dalrymple, Rogers and Waldron —were “specific candidates” in the Town of Taghkanic. And according to the County GOP’s own campaign finance report for its Housekeeping report, James Walsh’s legal expenses ($3,000 reported so far) were paid of that account. Likewise, the private investigation firm used by Fingar and Walsh in a failed attempt to bolster their feeble case was paid ($5,000) out of that same Housekeeping account.
It’s all there in black and white. And as we’ve just seen, Housekeeping funds can’t be used for “promoting the candidacy of specific candidates.”
So the moment that the County Republicans deposited a $6,500 check from the likes of PHR Inc. (a New Jersey corporation controlled by Alan Wilzig of Tribeca and Taghkanic) or a $5,000 check from the Cornerstone Group (another New Jersey corporation, this one apparently affiliated with Bob Raziano of Kinderhook), it would appear those funds immediately should have become off-limits for expenses like paying for a lawsuit on behalf of candidates such as Young, Tyree, et al. The same goes for all the other funds commingled in the County GOP’s Housekeeping account.
Fingar, Faso and the Republicans can’t plead ignorance of the rules, as those longstanding rules are well-known to old (and even some new) political hacks. Moreover, the difference between ordinary party funds and housekeeping accounts is not some pedantic, semantic triviality. that distinction exists because the sizes of checks which can be legally donated to the two types of accounts are very different.
The GOP might try instead to twist the language of the State’s guidance, claiming that their extraordinary lawsuit was somehow an “ordinary” party activity. But then they run into that small problem of all those “specific candidates” listed in court documents as co-plaintiffs...
... All of which looks to be a no-no. The question now is: Will anyone file a complaint to force a review of these campaign finance rules, and hold the GOP accountable for any violations?