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Possible violations found in donations to boro pols

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Eleven state lawmakers representing Queens received a total of $14,000 in donations from corporations that may have violated campaign finance law limiting the total gifts they can give in a single calendar year, open government advocacy groups said last week.

Under state law a company is allowed to donate no more than $5,000 in total to candidates running for office in a particular year.

The legislators’ names were included in a report that found at least 96 corporations that appeared to have given more than the $5,000 legal limit last year to candidates statewide.

The report, released last week by the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause New York, recommends that the state require all candidates to file their finances electronically with the state Board of Elections to allow the board to track corporate donations more closely, said Blair Horner, legislative director for NYPIRG.

The apparent violations slipped under the board’s radar because local candidates are not required to file with the state board but rather with their home county boards. Also, most of the reports are filed on paper, making it very difficult for the elections board, the candidates or the public to search the records, the report said.

“The way that the law is written, the corporations can make donations up to $5,000,” Horner said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell what company gave to who. It’s a black hole.”

Corporations may skirt the limit by donating under the names of their subsidiaries, which is allowed under state law, Horner said. The report, entitled “Over the Top: Corporations Exceeding the Limits of New York State Campaign Finance Law,” also asks that the loophole be closed by making the limit applicable to the entire corporation, Horner said.

Assemblymen Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), both of whom received two donations from companies that may have violated the limit, are planning to co-sponsor an assembly bill that would mandate the electronic filing, the lawmakers said. A similar bill is on the floor of the state Senate, Horner said.

“If you run for office, you have no idea who’s writing checks,” Grodenchik said. “We have a Board of Elections and that’s their job. They’re supposed to be enforcing the laws, and I hope this will help them do their job better.”

One way the electronic upgrade could help is by automatically notifying the board and the corporation should it go over the limit, Weprin said.

“There could even be a way where when a check comes in that hits the limit, it sends out some sort of signal to the person,” he said. “That’s the technology that’s out there. It should be used for the public’s safety.”

Under the legislation, the responsibility would remain with the state Board of Elections to enforce the law, but the electronic filing will make it simpler for them to do so, Horner said.

“The burden will really rely on the regulator, in this case the Board of Elections,” he said. “The state Board of Elections would have what they need to enforce the law. They would have the tools.”

A spokesman for the board said it is in favor of strengthening the campaign finance system.

Weprin received a $1,000 donation from Albanese Building Co., which apparently gave $8,750 to candidates statewide; and $1,500 from attorneys Berkman Honoch Petersen & Peddy PC, part of its total $18,000 in gifts, according to the report.

Forest Hills-based Muss Development Co. seemingly gave $16,050, including gifts of $2,750 to Grodenchik, $200 to Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), $200 to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) and $100 to Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing).

Arlen Contracting Co. gave $250 to Sen. George Onorato (D-Long Island City) and $1,000 to Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), a portion of its total of $8,475.

The Bold Holding Corp. apparently donated a total of $6,000, with $2,000 apiece going to Assemblymen Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights).

Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) received $2,500 from a doctor’s advocacy group, a tenth of its total $21,500, and Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) got $500 from Sterling Equities Inc., which apparently gave $18,750.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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