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Politics: Nys Public Campaign Finance Fraud Exposes State Board's Utter Incompetence

POLITICS: NYS public-campaign-finance fraud exposes state board’s utter incompetence

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New York state’s new public-campaign-funding scheme couldn’t be more ripe for fraud and abuse.

In the lead-up to the June 25 primaries, the state’s Public Campaign Finance Board doled out more than $8.6 million in matching-fund payments to 69 state legislative candidates — with no real guardrails to prevent shady candidates from ripping off the taxpayers.

The board looks to be as feckless as the Cannabis Control Board, which not-so-coincidentally was also launched under Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In a fit of responsible local journalism, The New York Times has chronicled, how Dao Yin, a Flushing Democrat who filed to run for state Assembly, apparently used straw donors to scam the system out of $162,800 in taxpayer-financed matching funds.

Naturally, New York funds the most generous statewide public-matching-funds system in the nation: A single $50 donation nets $600 in public funds while a maximum $250 contribution garners $1,800.

For contributions between $5 and $250 from legislative district residents, the public match is 12-to-1 for first $50, 9-to-1 for next $100 and 8-to-1 for the following $100.

And the board’s “oversight” doesn’t seem to go much beyond sending out the checks.

The Times’ review of Yin’s contribution cards found a host of red flags:

  • At least 48 alleged donors who said they never heard of Yin denied making the alleged contributions and said their signatures were forged; some said they no longer resided at the addresses listed.
  • Almost $28,000 in cash coming from small donors.
  • Most of his his donations, 80%, came in cash — about 15 times the average cash share of contributions for Assembly candidates participating in the system.
  • Multiple “donor” records missing key required contact information or with other errors.
  • Dao Yin was the campaign treasurer, chief fundraiser and candidate.

The board liaison to the Yin campaign missed all of this — and took Yin’s word that he sent so-called “good-faith” letters to validate questionable donors.

To be fair, the city Campaign Finance Board may have been as lax: For his 2020 borough president and 2021 City Council campaigns, he got over $1 million in city matching funds.

(The city board also needs to complete its 2023 City Council campaign audits, too, as the 2025 election season is upon us.)

The state idiocy was baked in from the start:

An April 2018 Siena poll found that nearly two-thirds of New York voters opposed public funding of state elections when told it would cost an estimated $100 million every two years — at least.

But Cuomo and the Legislature went ahead anyway, creating a commission to devise the system in March 2019.

They stacked it with political operatives, such as election lawyer and former de Blasio fixer Henry Berger and state Democratic Party boss Jay Jacobs — for whom Cuomo suspended a state regulation that prevented political party bosses from serving in “policy making” posts in state government.  

Today, the PCFB chair and vice chair are former state lawmakers Barbara Lifton (D) and Brian Kolb (R): That is, bipartisan patronage posts.

But the geniuses also left basic guardrails missing, such as:

  • Mandatory post-election audits of every campaign.
  • Sufficient staff to review and monitor campaign filings.
  • The board has no independent subpoena power to pursue rogue campaigns.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money for political appointees to dole out is a magnet for the corrupt.

The state program is a boon for incumbent lawmakers and their unscrupulous challengers — and another needless drain on taxpayers’ wallets.

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