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Illegal Contributions to Scott Vanderhoef Alleged

Scott Vanderhoef

Scott Vanderhoef, already well-known for his “play-for-pay” style of politics in New York’s political tinderbox, Rockland County, took in thousands in illegal campaign contributions during his 2009 County Executive Race, it was alleged yesterday.

Vanderhoef‘s rival in the 38th State Senate District race, David Carlucci, released information showing that the Rockland County Executive took in $9,205 from contractors during a County election cycle, which is illegal under a Rockland County law passed in 1999, which forbids such contributions–a law that Vanderhoef himself tried to quash with a veto.

Data from Vanderhoef’s campaign finance records, available online at the New York State Board of Elections website, show that he accepted over $170,000 in the last five years from companies engaging in business with the county. And while taking such donations in non-election years might not be illegal, it certainly calls into question Vanderhoef’s ethics as a politician and the influence of “pay-to-play” politics in our County government, which often results in wasteful spending.

Still, taking donations of more than $100 from contracted companies during an election cycle is illegal and Vanderhoef got dozens of these questionable contributions, all of which were above $100. And Carlucci’s campaign was quick to point out that Vanderhoef may owe Rockland taxpayers more than a refund and an apology:

Vanderhoef should owe Rockland County taxpayers – at the very least – $36,470.00 in fines for these campaign finance violations. And Vanderhoef may owe thousands more in fines if appropriate investigation by county attorneys demonstrates that dozens of other contractors who gave more than $100 to Vanderhoef were on approved vendor lists at the time of the contributions.

Carlucci’s campaign also points out that Vanderhoef accepted at least $2100 in over-the-limit contributions during 2007, another county election year, but not a year when Vanderhoef was running for County Executive. Vanderhoef ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2006.

Records show that contractors made contributions to Vanderhoef before, during and after bidding on county contracts worth millions, including those with current contracts, former contractors, and bidders for contracts. The list of contractors includes law firms, bond counsel, financial advisers, accounting firms, auditors, insurance brokers, construction companies, and road builders that either had county contracts, were seeking county contracts or both.

For one contract award, five award recipients gave donations to Vanderhoef. Combined, they gave $43,050 in donations. At least three of the awardees made contributions totaling $20,450 during the time of their contract. Further investigation is likely to show many illegal campaign finance violations from just this single contract.

More stunning relevations from the Carlucci camp:

The depth of Vanderhoef’s entanglements is illustrated by the fact that just one contractor, the law firm of Saretsky Katz Dranoff & Glass is”

• One of the awardees on the Health and Hospitals contracts;

• One of the biggest contractor-contributors to Vanderhoef;

• Appears to have violated county campaign finance law many times; and

• Is led by partner Eric Dranoff, who is Chairman of the Rockland County IDA and an ex officio member of the Rockland County Economic Development Corp. with Vanderhoef.

Carlucci’s campaign could only review the past five years of campaign finance records, because these records are only readily available for those years. Prior records are not available to the public without a subpoena or a Freedom of Information Act request as part of an investigation. And digging through those records and mating them to the names of businesses contracted by the county would be a daunting and arduous task.

This writer doesn’t see much hope in Vanderhoef suddenly changing his ways if he gets to Albany. We agree; the sheer volume of donations from contractors clearly suggests a strong potential for Albany-style “pay to play” arrangements between Vanderhoef’s government and political operations going forward.

Despite a the County’s obvious laws concerning pay-to-play contracting, Vanderhoef appears to have willingly violated the laws of Rockland County more than a dozen times, according to the Carlucci camp. But the final number of violations is still unclear, there may be more than what the Carlucci campaign has found. Knowing this will require investigation by the County.

The County election law in question is as follows:

(1) No individual, corporation, lobbyist or other entity doing business with the County of Rockland shall make a donation, in the aggregate, of more than $100 to any candidate during any primary, special or general election campaign.

(2) No candidate shall knowingly accept any such donation in excess of $100. (Chapter 223 Campaign Finance Reform Financial disclosure — See Ch. 66, Art. II.)

Penalties for offenses.

Violation of this chapter shall be punishable, for the first offense, by a fine of not less than $250 or three times the amount illegally contributed, whichever is greater, and each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not less than $500 or four times the amount illegally contributed, whichever is greater, to be enforced through a civil procedure by the County Attorney. (§ 223-5)

But along with outrageous patronage appointments and the sneaking through of Vanderhoef’s 12.5 percent raise,  this latest revelation really puts this all in perspective who Scott Vanderhoef really represents. Vanderhoef currently gives lip-service to reform in Albany as it is on the minds of many voters. Still, back in 1999, the County legislature voted to ban pay-to-play campaign contributions, and Vanderhoef vetoed this campaign-finance reform. However, the Legislature overrode his veto. But don’t let legalities get in the way of one of New York’s most ambitious politicians.

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Cliff Weathers

Cliff Weathers