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Start cleanup at the bottom

Monday, May 20, 2013 - Updated: 3:11 PM

If you're wondering why New York's legislators keep getting arrested, New York Public Interest Research Group has an answer in a report that documents more than 100,000 violations of the state's campaign finance laws over the past two years.

Like children never told no and never sent to their rooms, our state politicians get used to breaking rules with impunity, until they commit crimes serious enough to land them in jail.

Accustomed to lying and cheating and getting away with it, they graduate to bribery and public corruption.

The NYPIRG report found the following:

* More than $31 million in campaign funds is "missing in action," undocumented and unaccounted for;

* Hundreds of active campaign committees, with millions of dollars in the bank, have stopped filing campaign reports;

* Two hundred seventy-eight corporations exceeded the donations limit of $5,000 in 2012;

* Filings routinely were missing critical information, such as addresses of donors.

The campaign finance laws are routinely broken and ignored, according to NYPIRG. The state's response? In the 2009 election cycle, the state Board of Elections completed no audits of candidates' campaign finance filings.

As NYPIRG has asserted, lax enforcement of campaign finance laws is likely to give candidates the impression that, when it comes to how they handle money, the state is not paying attention.

In 2009, Gov. Eliot Spitzer budgeted $1.5 million for enforcement of the campaign finance laws by the Board of Elections, but because the board is controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties, the money was never used.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has complained legislators are unresponsive to his calls for tougher anti-corruption laws.

Any system that allows widespread flouting of laws, as documented in the NYPIRG report, is one that has failed.

We support the measure passed by the state Assembly to make the state campaign finance law more stringent. The Senate, which has been a haven for corruption, would make progress toward redemption by passing the measure as well.

As NYPIRG's officials assert, condoning small violations creates an environment in which more serious corruption flourishes.

Although two separate things are being discussed -- one a report on widespread violations of state campaign finance laws, the other an ongoing public corruption investigation centered in New York City -- one issue is at play.

That issue is the way money is being mishandled by state politicians. To rid state politics of the corruption that has come to define it, state leaders need to start the cleanup effort at the bottom, with the tens of thousands of violations of campaign finance laws, and work their way up to the felonies.

-- The Glens Falls Post-Star

     

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