State legislation proposed on Tuesday could prohibit politicians convicted of a felony from using campaign funds to support political candidates or pay legal expenses, an issue that officials say has persisted for too long.
At a news briefing outside State Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s office in Rockville Centre, he announced legislation that would force convicted elected officials, or former candidates, to return or donate campaign funds within two years of a felony conviction.
Under the law, campaign money can be returned to contributors; donated to a charitable organization; given to the State University of New York or City University of New York; or donated to the state’s general fund.
An existing law states that upon death of a candidate, former candidate or elected official, campaign funds must be returned to donors or donated to a state fund within two years. The proposed bill amends it to also include the “conviction of a felony.”
The announcement came on the day that former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos surrendered to prison after he was convicted on corruption charges in July. He was sentenced to 4 years and 3 months behind bars in October.
In the past 15 years, more than 20 New York elected officials have served time in prison, according to Kaminsky.
“I think New Yorkers would be shocked to know that a glaring loophole in the law allows former Senator Skelos, and other convicted felons like him, to still have campaign accounts that give them the ability to seriously influence elections,” said Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor.
Joining Kaminsky were Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, State Sen. Kevin Thomas and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonpartisan organization working toward government ethics reform.
“Surely, this is not a partisan issue,” Griffin said. “When we don’t require accountability for our elected officials, the public loses confidence in our government. I believe this common-sense ethics reform bill will help to restore faith in our elected officials and system of government.”
Officials have coined New York’s convicted politicians’ campaign funds “zombie accounts,” because they have been used to influence elections past their time in office, and in some cases while behind bars.
“This bill is long overdue,” Lerner said. “‘Zombie accounts’ just continuing on where you have disgraced former leaders who still control over half a million dollars in campaign funds is truly shocking.”