AP News

NY Speaker Silver's campaign reports bigger return

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's campaign on Friday said it discovered errors in investment income reported in years of financial reports that push the total campaign fund up by at least $400,000.

The Friends of Silver campaign on July 15 reported it had $2.8 million. But the campaign now says continued correction of financial filings shows more revenue from dividends and interest on roughly $2 million in investments. The corrections bring the total campaign fund to $3.2 million.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' Republican campaign has about $2 million invested. The little-known practice by the legislative leaders upset good-government advocates when it was reported Wednesday by The Associated Press. The advocates said powerful legislators amassing large enough campaign funds to put millions in long-term investments demand reforms to avoid possible conflicts of interest and huge advantages over challengers.

"There needs to be additional disclosure on this," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-New York. "It really is yet another indictment of our campaign finance system."

Last year, the Silver campaign started using new computer software and staff which handles compliance with state campaign finance laws and rules. The process of reconciling bank statements from the campaign and filings to the Board of Elections found errors were made for years in the little-noticed Schedule E of the campaign documents. That schedule lists dividends and interest from income.

"Our compliance staff identified an error in data entry and recording that was compounded over several years and resulted in some investment income not being listed on our periodic reports," said Silver campaign spokesman Jonathan Rosen. "As soon as we became aware of it we notified the Board of Elections, reviewed our prior filings and today filed amended reports that detail all interest and dividends from the committee's investments."

There are running totals for investments required of campaigns.

"That would have been difficult for us to find," said John Conklin of the state Board of Elections. "Everyone is sort of on the honor system. That's why we allow amendments."

The practice of flush campaigns like Silver's and Skelos' turning to investments of millions of dollars was little known before Wednesday's AP report. It examined a little noticed element of campaign financial filings labeled Schedule E, which records revenue from dividends and interest and how the money is invested. Silver's campaign invested some of its $2 million in investments in companies that hand contracts with the state, lobbied the state, had charities regulated by the state or which was in an industry regulated by the state.

Skelos' campaign invested in local government and school projects by buying the bonds that funded the borrowing for the projects. Skelos' campaign had no comment Friday.

Legislative leaders typically transfer part of their campaign funds to members in need. Legislative leaders are elected every two years by their members.

"There's a larger problem," said Lerner of Common Cause. "The perennial problem we have in New York's unbelievably bad campaign funding system is that leaders are able to accumulate this kind of money because there are sky-high contribution limits and no clear oversight.

"They are able to amass these huge war chests to ward off competition and secure their leadership," she said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he needs the public make campaign finance reform, and possible public financing of campaigns, a priority if he is to get it through the Legislature.

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