With Few Campaign Dollars, Smith and Sampson Limp Towards Election Day

State Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, facing indictments on corruption charges, have struggled to raise money.

State Senator Malcolm Smith. (Photo: Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
State Senator Malcolm Smith with State Senator John Sampson behind him and to his right. (Photo: Daniel Barry/Getty Images)

It doesn’t pay to get indicted.

State Senators John Sampson and Malcolm Smith, two legislators who once led the entire senate, have less than $16,000 between them for their re-election fights against contenders with far more cash and institutional support, according to new campaign filings. The Brooklyn and Queens Democrats were each indicted on corruption charges last year, seriously endangering their chances of surviving another term.

For Mr. Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat who is still close to his county’s Democratic organization, the trouble is debt. Legals fees from two indictments–Mr. Sampson was charged with embezzlement in 2013 and lying to FBI agents this year–have cut into his coffers as he struggles to raise money. Mr. Sampson is almost $29,000 in debt, despite pulling in nearly $35,000 in contributions, many from small businesses, law firms and loyal donors in the eastern Brooklyn district, including ex-Councilman Kendall Stewart.

Mr. Sampson’s biggest problem, beyond facing prison time, is that he has at least one viable opponent. Dell Smitherman, a former political coordinator with 1199 SEIU, is running with the unified support of organized labor in a district where union members–and an aggressive get-out-the-vote operation–will likely sway the outcome. Mr. Smitherman, buoyed by labor political action committees, raised more than $60,000 and has more than $40,000 on hand for the final two months of the campaign.

If both senators are convicted, they will be forced to resign.

“Today’s filings show that central Brooklyn is ready for real representation in the State Senate. For too long, John Sampson’s multiple indictments and myriad ethical indiscretions have robbed this community of a voice in Albany,” said Nathan Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Smitherman. “These records are a clear sign that Dell has the resources and widespread support to move beyond Sampson’s criminal legacy of not delivering.”

Also running are Sean Henry and Leon Miles, former City Council candidates. In a crowded field, Mr. Sampson’s odds of surviving improve, but even with the tacit support of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Mr. Sampson–like Mr. Smith, no longer a member of the Democratic conference–has a tough fight on his hands in Mr. Smitherman, a high priority candidate for unions and Democrats around the state.

Mr. Smith’s filing is a bit more robust. In a half year, the Queens Democrat reported raising almost $24,000 and spent about $11,000, drawing funds from local donors and Social Services Employee Union 371, which donated $1,000. In another committee (Mr. Smith has many, some of which are not active), he reported raising nothing and having $2,843 cash on hand.

Mr. Smith is fending off a challenge from former Councilman Leroy Comrie and two other lesser-known candidates, Bernadette Semple and Munir Avery.

After a mistrial was declared this summer, Mr. Smith will be tried again in January for allegedly orchestrating a bribery scheme to land him on the Republican ballot for mayor. Legal expenses were not paid with campaign funds and Mr. Smith has retained one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the nation, Gerald Shargel, to defend him. Mr. Shargel’s fees run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, legal observers say.

Like Mr. Sampson, Mr. Smith is up against at least one well-heeled opponent with a lot of support elsewhere. Mr. Comrie, who represented an overlapping southeast Queens district for 12 years, is backed by the Queens Democratic Party and various labor unions.

Mr. Comrie raised about $63,000 and has a little over $50,000 for the race after expenses. Though the former councilman and deputy borough president has struggled to raise money for past races, donations from political action committees and Democratic campaign accounts helped him overcome his earlier struggles.

“The community has paid the price for Malcolm Smith’s poor judgment and abdication of responsibility, so it should come as no surprise that he has lost support–not only from donors, but also labor unions, progressive organizations, his colleagues in government and voters within the district,” a spokesperson for Mr. Comrie’s campaign said.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Sampson did not return requests for comment.

This story has been updated to reflect that Mr. Smith did indeed raise money from one of his campaign accounts. Mr. Smith raised $23,353 and not zero dollars, which was reported on a different account he has opened. With Few Campaign Dollars, Smith and Sampson Limp Towards Election Day