September 14, 2018 07:52 AM
Whether it's their choice or yours, when someone's public life is over, they normally have at least some cash left in their campaign coffers.
Generally speaking, that money can't be used to benefit the individual personally but, "it's sort of a loose system and a system that is too often ripe for abuse," says Blair Horner of NYPIRG.
Leftover campaign cash should be used to payoff campaign debts and office expenses.
Anything after that can be donated to other political candidates, committees or charities.
"So, some elected officials, when they leave office, they just create a political committee, they then become lobbyists and they use the campaign contributions in their own PACs to ingratiate themselves to the very same people they were formally colleagues of," Horner says.
News10NBC discovered many former state lawmakers and candidates still have cash in their campaign accounts. They let it sit there for years.
Mike Nozzolio, a long-time state senator from the Finger Lakes, decided not to run for reelection in 2016 for health reasons; he still has cash left in his war chest.
According to financial disclosures filed with New York State, Nozzolio spent $18,000 from August 2017-January 2018 on donations to political candidates, Republican committees and charities.
News10NBC reached out to Nozzolio but he did not return our calls.
However, the way he handles his campaign account is fairly standard.
Where things get a little more gray is when former elected leaders dip into campaign accounts for legal reasons.
"Campaign contributions can be used as a "get out jail" free card by elected officials," says Horner.
Take, for example, former state Senator George Maziarz. Maziarz retired in 2014 while under investigation for misusing campaign funds.
He still has thousands in his campaign account, and recently he's been using it to defend himself against criminal charges.
Maziarz's financial disclosures show $62,000 in payments made from August to January.
Much of that money went to lawyers in Buffalo and Albany. He also used that money to stay at Albany hotels, presumably while meeting with those lawyers and attending court hearings.
News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "He used campaign money to defend himself against allegations that he was misusing campaign money. How is this allowed?"
Blair Horner: "Because they are being investigated for activities as elected officials, they can use their campaign contributions in that matter."
Former Senator Maziarz didn't want to do an interview with News10NBC but his attorney tells us it's perfectly legal to use the money for this reason and that's what his client is doing.
Former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spent millions in campaign contributions during his corruption trials and former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos did too.
It ended up helping their bottom lines to keep those campaign accounts open.
"What many states do is, as soon as the campaign season is over, if an elected official loses, they have to turn their campaign contributions over to the state treasury or give it to a bona fide charity," says Horner.
There is no talk of making any drastic changes to the state campaign finance laws in New York at this point.
To search financial disclosures, click here.
Updated: September 14, 2018 07:52 AM
Created: September 13, 2018 11:27 PM
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