A public watchdog group is raising questions about how embattled state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) is spending his campaign money.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, citing documents filed by members of the state Legislature, said Smith charged more than $100,000 to his campaign fund to offset the cost of leased cars, bridge tolls and related expenses.
Published reports said state Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean) had the second-highest travel expenses since 2010, requesting reimbursement for $79,693.
Bill Mahoney, research coordinator at NYPIRG’s Albany office, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that legislators receive per diem payments that are supposed to cover travel and lodging when the Senate and Assembly are in session.
“But in New York State, it’s pretty much anything goes with campaign funds,” Mahoney said.
The appearance, he said, is troubling.
“Most people would agree that it is unseemly for a lobbyist or other group to give gifts directly to a legislator,” Mahoney said.
But make similar donations to a campaign fund, he said, and the legislator largely can do what he or she wants with the money by claiming it is being spent on something campaign-related.
A spokeswoman at Smith’s district office in Hollis said on Wednesday that the senator would have no comment on the matter.
Smith, who theoretically is up for re-election next year, is under federal indictment on corruption charges stemming from allegations that he tried to bribe Republican leaders in the five boroughs to get on the Republican ballot for mayor in the election that took place last month.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and three others also have been indicted. Another, former Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino, pleaded guilty last month as part of a reported deal with prosecutors.