Good government groups take aim at soft money


A new report says that between 2006 and 2012, the Monroe County Republican Party took in more so-called soft money contributions than any other county-level political committee in New York State.

According to the report, which was put together by Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG, the party's housekeeping committee took in $4.4 million in contributions. By comparison, the Queens County Democratic Party's housekeeping committee took in $3.5 million, making it the second-highest county-level committee.

The Monroe County Democratic Party took in approximately $1.3 million in soft-money contributions. Overall, county parties raised $25.7 million in soft money between 2005 and 2012, the report says.

The housekeeping committees are different from political and campaign committees; they don't have contribution limits, for starters. But state law also says that the money is supposed to be used for maintaining a headquarters and staff, not to promote candidates or campaigns. However, committees around the state — Democratic and Republican — have figured out ways around those restrictions. The report says spending often ramps up close to elections, and that soft money is sometimes used for ads and mass mailings.

But with the Monroe County GOP, there's a catch. I scanned through a few years worth of the housekeeping committee's filings, and the party is receiving large donations from local companies, which it's allowed to do. But it appears to be using the money for what state law says it should. The housekeeping account is paying for things like rent, payroll, satellite TV, volunteer appreciation events, party events, and so on. Very little, if any, of the money appears to be directed at campaigns or candidates.

Common Cause and NYPIRG say soft money accounts provide an avenue for powerful interests to avoid campaign contributions, and that the donations still have potential to influence government business. The committees should be abolished, the report says, or at minimum, contribution limits should be lowered. The report also calls for a system of public matching funds for smaller contributions.