New York State Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian is stumped.
I've called him to get his take on the legality of over $1 million in loans Tom Golisano's campaign committee gave to the committees of his two candidates for lieutenant governor, Dan Mahony and William Neild, and Daghlian is just as clueless as someone who doesn't know the law --- like pretty much everyone else in the state.
Between June and August of this year, the Tom Golisano for Governor campaign loaned Mahony's committee a total of $500,184.81. Neild's committee, Citizens for Neild, took in a total of $751,729.13 between July and early September. According to campaign finance reports filed with the Board of Elections, the loans covered campaign expenses, such as the cost of hiring petitioners from the Nevada-based firm National Voter Outreach, to the penny.
Governor George Pataki's campaign had first questioned the legality of the loans in early August. At that time, Daghlian said the loans were legal, but had to be paid back by the September 10 primary.
Neild, Golisano's running mate on the Independence Party line, lost the primary to Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue. Mahony dropped out of contention in mid-August, amid charges he committed voter fraud. He disqualified himself from the Lt. Gov race by moving to Connecticut.
As of September 27, Daghlian didn't know if the loans had been repaid, but he reiterated his understanding of the law. "Loans are loans until election day," he said, "then they become donations or contributions and, by law, come under whatever restrictions [govern political contributions]," like caps on maximum contributions.
Daghlian predicted the issue would end up in court, where several disputes between the Pataki and Golisano campaigns have been fought. As for the September 10 repayment deadline, Daghlian said, "I don't think Golisano agrees with that. He apparently has some sort of theory that this was not a traditional loan."
Neither the Golisano campaign nor Pataki's people returned calls seeking comment. Mahony could not be reached for comment.
Neild, a tax attorney from Fairport, did pick up his home phone. But when asked if he'd paid the loans back, things got a little confusing.
Neild said he hadn't paid the loans back, and furthermore, "I wouldn't have paid [the loans] back, anyway."
Because Citizens for Neild may as well be Citizens for Nebuchadnezzar, as far as Neild's concerned. "That's not a campaign committee that I have," Neild said. "I don't know anything about it. I have nothing to do with it... I'm not even certain who the treasurer of that campaign committee is."
Like Friends of Dan Mahony, Jr., Citizens for Neild is registered with the Board of Elections care of Networx Corporation. And like the Tom Golisano for Governor Committee, Networx Corporation is located at 1 Fishers Road, in Pittsford.
Neild said Citizens for Neild is an "unauthorized committee," and as such, he is not responsible for it.
So I called Daghlian back, hoping he could shed some light on the difference between authorized and unauthorized committees.
He couldn't. Or rather, he refused to speculate as to whether loans to unauthorized campaigns were legal, again citing his belief the matter will ultimately be up to a judge to decide. (The Board of Elections cannot bring charges against candidates who break the state's election laws. It can, however, recommend to district attorneys that they take action on the public's behalf.)
Daghlian did say it's "unusual to have an unauthorized committee" run by "people you obviously know."
"To say you had nothing to do with it just doesn't make any sense to me," Daghlian said, "but I'm just a layperson."
It's doubtful that either laypeople or Board of Election officials could make sense of the 10 Day Post Primary Report submitted to the board by Citizens for Neild. According to that report, Golisano's committee loaned Citizens for Neild $167,038.75 on September 3. That same day, Citizens for Neild paid a company in San Francisco that exact amount, by electronic transfer, for petitioning purposes. That's typical of the way previous loans to Neild's and Mahony's committees were handled.
Atypically, the post-primary report shows a loan repayment: a check for $751,729.13 was sent to the Tom Golisano for Governor Committee on September 9, the day before Daghlian has said the loan was due.
Where could that money have come from? According to the post-primary report, Tom Golisano himself, of 911 Panorama Trail, gave Citizens for Neild a contribution of --- you guessed it --- $751,729.13, on the same day Citizens for Neild paid Tom Golisano for Governor the exact same sum.
So, essentially, Tom Golisano appears to have personally repaid a loan his self-financed committee paid out.
And this is the candidate who's going to end Big Money's influence on New York politics?