ALBANY—The other day I wrote about the late State Senator Ron Stafford’s campaign account, and how nearly $60,000 of it has been spent since his death in 2005.
It turns out there are lots of pots of campaign money out there, just sitting, some being spent, controlled by elected officials who have left office and are unlikely (at best) to return.
Bill Mahoney at NYPIRG put together the above spreadsheet. I asked some of the people on it—several of whom are lobbyists—what they used the money for.
“I haven’t liquidated it because, frankly, I haven’t ruled out ever running for public office again,” said former State Senator Ray Meier, now an attorney with Bond, Schoeneck and King. “Lobbyists make political contributions, so you can ask the broader question, is it proper for lobbyists to make political contributions?”
Good-government advocates—including NYPIRG—have said that accounts should be closed when the officeholder leaves office. Election law allows for campaign funds to be expended for any lawful purpose, which includes legal fees, politically related trips or pretty much anything short of financing arms sales.
Meier could, theoretically, make another run for office. But what about Brian McLaughlin, an ex-assemblyman? The 57-year-old lawmaker was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing money and taking kickbacks. His campaign account contains $732,000; it paid attorney (and Senate staffer) Josh Ehrlich $10,000 in the last six-month reporting period.
“I have a contract with the committee, and as I have to do filings or deal with things, I get paid,” Ehrlich told me, noting he’s been under contract for three years. “I had to deal with the board, I had to deal with the bank. It is what it is.”
John Faso, a lawyer and lobbyist with Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, told me his spending over $16,000 these past six months is “entirely appropriate.”
“There’s no law or regulation against it. I had money left over from my campaign—being a fiscal conservative, I didn’t go into debt in any race I’ve ever run,” he said. It’s just simply where I may be asked to go speak somewhere in conjunction with someone’s candidacy, or if a candidate who’s supported me in the past, in particular, is running for office, then I try to reciprocate that support.”
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s untoward or illegitimate about that,” Faso, who has run for governor and comptroller and may someday run for something else, said. “As a percentage of the total amount I raised, very small amounts were left. We budgeted that way, because you always have unanticipated expenses that occurred at the end of the campaign. It’s a worthwhile approach towards budgeting in general that I think individuals and campaigns should adopt.”