When I first read the July 17th article by Chris McKenna of the Times Herald Record – KJ interests donate $250K to Cuomo days after veto of annexation bills – my first reaction was here we go again with those LLC donations. I appreciate the efforts of Mr. McKenna since the amount of legwork that goes into unraveling some of these money trails can be extremely time consuming and frustrating.
Contributions from LLC’s are perfectly legal, as long as the funds, or a portion thereof, are not deposited from another source either immediately prior to the donation or well in advance; the activity in the account indicating an advance may have been pre-meditated. In those two respects it’s a crime, a crime that is commonly referred to as a conduit contribution, with the legal definition being a donation in the name of another. In a nutshell, an LLC can be the business version of the individual straw-donor.
Rockland County has seen its share of campaign finance disclosures in recent years that have all the red flags of conduit contributions, most notably the campaign finance disclosures of Ilan Schoenberger for County Executive in 2013 and Sherri Eisenpress for County Family Court Judge in 2011. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was also at the center of one of these controversies.
The lack of investigation and ultimate possible lack of prosecution has become a sore point with the public, especially since the investigation process is not very difficult. A subpoena to the bank housing the account involved, the campaign account and the donor(s) account, will generally quickly determine whether a possible violation exists.
So why is this allowed to continue, often brazenly by elected officials absent of the fear that might just keep some of them on the straight and narrow? The first question to address is who exactly is charged with policing this? The short answer is no one in particular. The system is reactionary instead of proactive, much like the nominating petition process where petitions are considered valid unless an objection is filed. The manpower required to review and investigate the sheer number of transactions that possibly fit the mold and any underlying LLC’s is often limited, although I maintain it is not too difficult to spot the most questionable ones.
In some ways the entire system devolves into a stool pigeon approach, a term popular in early Hollywood gangster movies painting an informant in a negative light. The negative implication, however, is now met with applause to those who bring these schemes to the attention of law enforcement; usually John Q. Public and the opposing campaign. Yet, there is still a prevailing attitude that the crime isn’t sexy enough to pursue and enforce; penalties and prosecutions not strong enough to invest in the effort or dissuade the perpetrators. There have been some high profile cases over the years, most notably that of Jia “Jenny” Hou, the Campaign Treasurer for former New York City Comptroller, John Liu. Hou was sentenced to ten months in prison in October of 2013 for her role in using straw-donors during Liu’s 2013 New York City Mayoral bid.
Banks are also charged with policing their customer’s accounts for suspicious activity and there may very well be suspicious activity reports filed throughout the nation on this practice. However, most bank personnel charged with this responsibility are most likely not familiar with the red flags associated with campaign finance violations. On an unrelated note, it was a suspicious activity report that led to former New York State Governor, Eliot Spitzer, forever being labeled as “Client Number 9.”
It seems to me that in the interest of truth, justice and the American way, law enforcement owes the public a look into these KJ contributions. We also need to take this activity more seriously, stiffen penalties and perhaps hold individuals who participate in this as the straw-donors – whether they were duped, cajoled, coerced, or not – much more accountable.
[Editor’s Note: Charles Falciglia is a candidate for Rockland County Legislature in District #12. Here is the text of an interview with Rockland Voice. The following is a list of articles written by Falciglia for Rockland Voice
1) Open Letter On Behalf of the Taxpayers of Ramapo
2) Leadership That’s Working
3) Conduit Contributions Where Money Laundering & Politics Mix
4) Rockland’s Independence Party Line
5) Sewer District Needs To Explain Eminent Domain Failure
6) Four Thousand Shades of Political Gray
7) Abbott and Costello Math in the Town of Monroe
8) Point Counter-point On Ramapo Ward Vote
9) Ward System of Ramapo or Wards of the State
10) Disloyalty – A Metaphor for Failed Leadership