Judge Rolf Thorsen recently drew the ire of many with his decision to find Rabbi Moshe Taubenfeld, charged with sexual abuse, not guilty. Due to the nature of such a case and the defendant involved, many immediately cried foul, elevating Thorsen to Bloc Vote tool and stooge status; his decision pre-ordained due to what must be a quid pro quo.
I do not know Rolf Thorsen and do not know whether his decision was correct based on his interpretation of the law and/or the facts surrounding the case, or completely wrongheaded. Certainly, the decision by his attorney to move this from trial by jury to trial by judge was the right legal maneuver to give his client the best chance of winning. Any attorney worth his salt would have done the same.
Since the proof is usually in the pudding, a cursory review of Thorsen’s campaign finance disclosures for 2014, through the July 2015 periodic filing, reveals nothing on the surface that would indicate he was the beneficiary of any religious related influence from a monetary standpoint; nor any pattern of conduit contributions. In fact, it is strikingly opposite to the campaign finance disclosure of another family court judge, Sherri Eisenpress, whose disclosures are riddled with questionable contributions. Eisenpress has also been questioned about at least one of her family court decisions regarding a child custody case, allowing the children to stay in New Square with the father as opposed to leaving New Square with the mother.
While Thorsen’s disclosures are somewhat ordinary as far as Rockland politics go, there is one contribution that does stick out as being out of the normal sphere of donations you would expect to see for a candidate for that particular office; in terms of both donor and amount. The donor is from Manhattan and the donation is for $3,600.00, the largest donation received by Thorsen. The donation was made three days after Election Day. Interestingly, that same donor made a $4,000.00 donation to the 2013 campaign of Ilan Schoenberger for County Executive, which, on the surface, seemed out of the normal sphere for that race also. It certainly is unusual that someone who has donated a grand total of $488.00 since January 1, 2000, per New York State Board of Election records, would choose to all of a sudden become so generous in two seemingly disconnected races.
During the review, it was noted that Clarkstown Supervisor, Alex Gromack, was also extremely generous in his support for Judge Thorsen. Friends of Alex Gromack contributed $1,000.00 to Thorsen with contributions of $500.00 in May and September of 2014.
Now there is nothing at all illegal about the Gromack campaign contributing to another elected official. However, in what strikes me as somewhat humorous, if you review the campaign financial disclosures of our elected officials you will find that they are always donating to each other. It’s like the scene from the movie Donnie Brasco, where on Christmas Day, Brasco (played by Johnny Depp) and Lefty (played by Al Pacino) exchange envelopes, both giving each other the same amount of money.
Humor aside, the back and forth varies as elected officials support each other in what I will describe as a loose interpretation of wheeling. Often, the elected incumbent/candidate with the bigger war chest will donate more. Generally, an elected official not up for re-election, but with funds to spare, will make a donation to a candidate involved in a tough race. It is also a vehicle to exhibit party loyalty and dare I say spread influence.
Unused campaign funds remain the property of the candidate and while they cannot be used for personal expenses they can be used for anything deemed campaign/politically related, which seems to have a very loose interpretation. It is a topic that warrants further discussion. To put this practice in perspective, for context I will refer to the aftermath of the 2013 Suffern Mayor’s race.
I teased a supporter of mine that he had donated to one of my opponents. The supporter immediately took on a quizzical look as he searched his memory, quite sure he had not. Before he began his denial I explained to him what I meant. He had previously donated to Candidate A for an unrelated race, who in turn donated to Candidate B (my opponent) which, one can argue, meant a pro-rated share of his donation went to my opponent. True, you can make a counter argument of timing, to wit, a donation and the ultimate destination of the funds may be several months or even years away, obfuscated by funds moving in and out of the account. To simplify; let’s say you donate to a candidate and he/she spends every last cent, than subsequently raises additional funds, which eventually end up in another candidate’s campaign account. Is it fair to say that a portion of your contribution should qualify under that scenario?
In realty, many contributors could care less, taking the Donald Trump approach that they are buying influence not lawn signs, sprinkled with loyalty to an individual candidate and their view that it’s within the law. Call me Pollyanna but when someone uses that within the law argument it is just another disingenuous platitude to skirt the real issue. Just as many regular folks are clueless about this practice and become irritated that their hard earned money, they believe is going for lawn signs and mailings, end up in the coffers of a candidate they despise and would never vote for; or a donation to a group they would never contribute to.
They say justice is blind. Eyes wide open also applies.
EDITORS NOTE: This piece is the sole opinion of the author and does not reflect the views of the editorial staff at Rockland Voice.