11/13/08

Labor-state glimpse into union election fraud

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Nation beset by epidemic of corrupt union politics fueled by fat cats' forced-dues windfall

District Attorney David Soares and Integrity Party opponent Roger Cusick violated election rules by accepting over-the-limit campaign contributions from top labor unions, state filings show.

The pair were limited to $9,200.95 from any single contributor over a four-year election cycle — yet both exceeded that threshold, according to state Board of Elections records.

Soares, a first-term Democrat, received $15,000 from the New York State Laborers and another $9,747 from the state's largest health care union, while Cusick took $12,127.92 from Council 82, the parent union for rank-and-file Albany Police officers and 70 other unions, the records said.

And campaign filings show additional aid to Cusick that, while not in violation, appeared to skate by the spirit of election limits.

Council 82 contributed another $10,000 to the Albany County Republican Committee on Oct. 10. Four days later, Cusick transferred $10,000 into his campaign from the committee, records show.

Nothing legally prevents a political committee from spending contributions as it wishes. But candidates and contributors can face misdemeanor charges if they knowingly exceed limits, said state Board of Elections spokesman Robert Brehm. He said typically, a wrongly reported figure needed gets corrected or a refund is given.

"We're confident we followed the letter of the law," said Cusick campaign spokesman Dan Farrell. "If we do discover any errors or discrepancies, it will be rectified on our last filing."

Cusick, a Republican from Loudonville, entered the race under the Integrity Party banner in August.

When asked about contributions to the county GOP, Council 82 president Christian Mesley said it was "up to them" to spend money. He said he was unaware of donations exceeding the limit, but said, "We'll check into it." Campaign contributors had limits on what they could spend on the DA's race: No more than five cents per registered active voter in Albany County, according to the Albany County Board of Elections.

As of Nov. 1, that figure was $184,019, the highest it has been in the four-year election cycle for the race, records show. As a result, the contribution limit for the race was $9,200.35 from any one source, not including political parties.

Yet the New York State Laborers union gave $1,500 to Soares' campaign in September 2006, $5,000 more in June 2007, an additional $5,000 last March and another $3,500 in May.

James Long, an election lawyer for Soares, said the DA was arranging to either refund the money or donate it to charity.

Soares accepted $9,747 from the New York State Political Action Fund of SEIU 1199 in July 2007. Long called it a "guestimate" based on apparent limits. The prior April, the state Board of Elections Web site was lumping "inactive" and "active" voters together -- even though only active ones count toward contributions. Based on the Web site total, the limit would have been exactly $9,747.

"I think it's fair to say we felt it was within the limits of what the law allowed," said Local 1199 spokesman Dick Farfaglia.

Neither the Laborers nor Albany County Republican chairman John Graziano could be reached Wednesday.

Council 82 gave Cusick $9,378 on Sept. 23, by itself over the limit. Cusick's filings show the union provided him with "in kind" donations of $744.77 on Sept. 16 and $802.06 on Sept. 29. It paid for "office space" on Colvin Avenue, where Cusick's campaign and the union were both based, the filings showed.

Council 82 expensed an additional $1,203.09 for the candidate's rent on Oct. 20. That figure, as well as the Sept. 29 payment, were listed on the union's expenditure list as a contribution to Council 82's "operating fund," under the explanation: "Rent - Cusick for DA."

It is not the first time the Albany County DA's race and contributions have fallen under scrutiny. When Soares first ran, a judge ruled in October 2004 that the Working Families Party violated election law in spending more than $121,000 to promote his Democratic Party campaign against then-DA Paul Clyne. Justice Bernard J. Malone Jr.'s 15-page decision also dismissed allegations of wrongdoing against Soares as unfounded.

(timesunion.com)

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