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Queens Chronicle

City says candidates violated election law

Campaign Finance Board fines residents for variety of penalties

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Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:22 pm, Thu Jul 28, 2011.

City officials slapped fines on several former candidates and politicians from Queens last week because they said some of their campaign practices violated city elections law.

After wrapping up recently conducted audits of elections practices citywide in 2009, the Campaign Finance Board announced last Thursday that eight former candidates from throughout the city had committed violations.

Queens violators include Lew Simon, a Democrat who ran for the Council’s 32nd District that is now represented by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park); Bob Friedrich, who ran against Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) for the 23rd District; and former Councilwoman Helen Sears, who represented the 25th District that is now covered by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

Simon and Friedrich said they were disappointed to have been cited by the board, saying the violations seem tedious and deter individuals from running for office.

Simon, who attended a CFB hearing on the matter last week, was fined $250 for filing a financial disclosure statement five days late and $400 for failing to accurately report cash receipts.

Simon, a Democratic district leader from Far Rockaway, said the mistakes were the fault of city officials because they gave his campaign the wrong disclosure form. By the time the situation had been rectified, Simon said he had to turn the form in late.

“Paying fines like this deters people from running for public office,” Simon said.

Friedrich, who was fined $433 for accepting two corporate contributions, also criticized the city’s campaign system and said it seemed to favor incumbents or well-connected individuals who could afford lawyers to challenge fines handed out by the CFB or other city entities.

Sears, who could not be reached for comment, was fined $2,500 for accepting two corporate contributions and seven over-the-limit contributions.

CFB officials also said others from Queens needed to repay public funds — or monies that were given to a candidate who participated in the city’s public matching funds system. Any funds that were not spent have to be given back to the city.

Weprin repaid $16,346; Simon returned $4,926; Debra Markell, a Democrat who ran for the 19th Council District seat now held by Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), gave back $1,046; and Mel Gagarin, a Kew Gardens Democrat who ran for the 29th Council District returned $63.

“Public financing has been a boon to participatory democracy in New York City,” Weprin said. “At the same time, I believe in being frugal with taxpayer dollars.”

Eric Friedman, director of external affairs at the CFB, noted a campaign can owe public money without having committed any violation.

“Under New York City’s public matching funds system, there is a mix of private and public funds in every campaign,” Friedman said. “The requirement to return unused funds to the taxpayers after the election helps ensure that taxpayers get the best value from the program.”

City officials said the public funds program is meant to help candidates with limited access to large moneyed sources.

The city will match each dollar a resident gives to a candidate up to $175 with six dollars in public funds, for a maximum of $1,050 in public funds per contributor.

In exchange, participating candidates have to abide by strict spending limits, which are different for each office.

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