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NYS Exposed: Taxpayer funded mailings come close to election time

September 21, 2018 06:53 AM

Election season is upon us which means those vying for your vote are trying to get your attention any way they can. But most of the incumbents aren't just using campaign cash to get their name out there, they're using your tax dollars too.

If you've been pulling flyers out of your mailbox that tout the perceived successes of your assembly member or senator, you're not alone. 

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News10NBC has reviewed public records that show that most incumbent lawmakers spend thousands of dollars more on political mailers in election years compared to non-election years.

Voters in the 61st State Senate District got a mailer from Senator Mike Ranzenhofer the week before the primary that claimed he's leading the fight to combat corruption.

It's a message Ranzenhofer likely wanted to get out to voters in the wake of Congressman Chris Collins' arrest since Ranzenhofer's state district covers part of Collins' congressional district. 

But, Ranzenhofer's Democratic challenger, Joan Seamans, says taxpayer-funded mailing is just a veiled campaign ad.

"Look at them closely, it's not serving the community, it's promoting himself," she tells News10NBC.  

That corruption mailer, and another one sent to constituents a few months ago regarding the opioid crisis, do tend to use one word in particular, quite often.

"I, I'm helping, I helped secure, I championed, there's not one thing on this piece about where you can go for help or resources that are available," Seamans says. 

Senator Ranzenhofer refused News10NBC's requests for an on-camera interview but said, through his spokesman, "As a state senator, part of my role is to ensure constituents of the sprawling 61st Senate District- from Rochester to Batavia to Buffalo- know how I'm working for them and their families. Like many hardworking western New Yorkers, I am fed up with the lack of ethics in state government, from bid-rigging scandals to corruption trials. That is why I am leading the fight to combat corruption."

News10NBC pulled records of Ranzenhofer's spending on bulk mail postage which shows he spent nearly $80,000 last year, when he wasn't up for re-election. 

This year, he's on pace to go well beyond that. As of March, he spent $64,000.  

It's not just Ranzenhofer sending mailings patting himself on the back. 

A News10NBC investigation last election cycle showed nearly all state lawmakers from the Rochester-area spend more sending mailers in election years, when they've got skin in the game. 

"The data shows it's not a coincidence, we regularly see an up-tick in spending on legislative mail ahead of general elections, when state lawmakers are up for re-election, that's a fact," Ken Girardin of the Empire Center said.

At the moment, it's perfectly legal for them to use your tax dollars on legislative mailers, so long as the flyers don't directly ask for your vote.

In the Senate, there is a blackout period of 30 days before the general election. In the Assembly, the blackout period is 30 days before the primary and 60 days before the general election.  

"These are powers that incumbents have and use to their advantage all the time," says Blair Horner, the executive director of NYPIRG. 

This includes Governor Andrew Cuomo. As News10NBC reported last month, in the weeks before his primary with Cynthia Nixon, two taxpayer-funded mailings and a magazine ad touted his believed success.

Senate and Assembly members combined last year spent more than $6 million on bulk mail postage alone, that doesn't include the cost of the flyers themselves.  

To search your lawmaker's expenditures, click here.

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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