Sunday, September 10, 2006

Boyland's $100 mystery campaign and the state's weak campaign finance laws

If you've gotten Tracy Boyland fliers in the mail or have seen posters up in the 18th Senatorial District, you know that the candidate challenging incumbent Velmanette Montgomery (who opposes the Atlantic Yards project) must be spending some serious money.

Just yesterday, I received three different Boyland mailings--one with the not-so-subtle message of "Progress for us," accompanied by three photo-ops at housing projects.

However, according to Boyland's filing with the New York State Board of Elections (BOE), Boyland has only $100 to spend--from herself. (See below, and click to enlarge.)

That was from her required 32-day pre-primary report, due in early August. Her 11 day pre-primary report was due September 1. She hasn't filed yet. And if she doesn't tell the public who's funding her before the primary election in September 12, well, she'll get away with a slap on the wrist: a fine of $500.

Ratner's role?

Is Forest City Ratner backing Boyland, who supports Atlantic Yards (though doesn't say so in her mailings)? The Crain's Insider last month quoted sources saying Boyland was using the same consulting firm--Knickerbocker SKD--that FCR uses for its deceptive Atlantic Yards mailers. Boyland told the Brooklyn Papers that she's friends with FCR's Bruce Bender.

I've reported on how a push poll from Pacific Crest Research--likely a client of Forest City Ratner--attempted to sway voters to Boyland, an Atlantic Yards supporter. Forest City Ratner wouldn't comment on the company's role in Boyland campaign, according to the Courier-Life chain.

Boyland herself has been elusive. She didn't fill out a candidate's questionnaire from the Brooklyn Papers, nor return phone calls. And, as the Village Voice reported in 2004, she has a history of playing fast and loose with campaign finance regulations.

Losing endorsements

Boyland's lack of transparency has driven even pro-AY editorial pages at the Daily News and the Courier-Life chain to endorse Montgomery.

(The Courier-Life calls Boyland "a phantom" and hails Montgomery for not being "afraid to challenge the status quo" in opposing Atlantic Yards. Still, the editorial page endorses 57th Assembly District candidate Hakeem Jeffries while claiming that anti-AY candidate Bill Batson is backed by what is mischaracterized as the "NIMBY" crowd. Isn't Montgomery also backed by some of the same people? The Brooklyn Papers endorsed both Batson and Montgomery.)

Weak state penalties

Can Boyland get away with this? The sanctions for flouting state campaign finance laws pale in comparison to those regarding city or federal campaign laws. Candidates who fail to file their state reports on time get a letter sent five business days later warning that they face a judgment with a maximum amount of $500, plus court costs and interest.

"That's the only thing we can do," Lee Daghlian, director of public information for BOE, told me. "We can't civilly fine."

While candidates miss deadlines frequently, it's often because they're new to the process. That's not the case with Boyland, however, a former term-limited City Councilwoman from a Brooklyn political dynasty.

"We pursue them all who should file. It takes a couple of months to get a judgment," Daghlian said. Given that there are six filing deadlines for each race, there could be six separate fines if a candidate missed each deadline.

It's tougher elsewhere

"We've asked for years to be able to levy civil fines, like the city campaign finance board or the FEC [Federal Election Commission] does, but the legislature hasn't responded," he said.

In New York City, candidates who fail to file see the penalties grow each day, plus a multiplier depending on how much they've raised. The FEC also adds a base fine linked to the amount of money raised, plus daily penalties, as well as a multiplier based on the number of previous violations.

Boyland's empty promises

Boyland, despite her entrenched status in Brooklyn politics, was described in the push-poll as "a candidate who would be new to Albany and try to shake things up." One of her mailings promises "a new era of understanding."

Apparently neither applies to campaign finance laws.

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