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NYS Senator Wants Harsher Penalties For Election Law Violations

WAMC, Allison Dunne

A New York state senator from the Hudson Valley has introduced legislation calling for increased penalties for people found violating election law. The bill is prompted by what he alleges were unlawful campaign contributions in the 2014 elections tied to New York City’s mayor. 

Republican state Senator Terrence Murphy, who spoke Tuesday in White Plains, is calling for heightened penalties in relation to unlawful campaign contributions to county or town committees. He introduced legislation April 22 to amend the election and penal laws.

“There’s got to be a little skin in the game for these people. My legislation is, right now, go from an E felony to a D felony, so one year, up to seven years on each charge,” says Murphy. “So if they’re charged with five things, you’re talking 35 years.”

That’s years in prison. This comes as The Daily News exclusively reported April 22 that the head investigator for the New York state Board of Elections looked into the 2014 fundraising efforts by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his team on behalf of Senate Democrats. That head investigator writes, in the document obtained by The Daily News, The violations discovered by this investigation can only be described as willful and flagrant.”  Now that several media outlets in the New York City area are on to the story, Murphy says it’s about time.

“I’m happy. This is a long time coming. We said this two years ago. We said this two years ago and they thought it was politics as usual. ‘Oh, you know what, this is an election season. You’re pooh-poohing it. You didn’t pooh-pooh it,’” Murphy says. “Here we are two years later and, you know what, this is serious allegations.”

The Manhattan district attorney and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reportedly are investigating the matter. Speaking with WNYC, de Blasio denied breaking the law and said his office will “happily” participate in any investigations. Murphy contends the following.

“This laundering money was used to dramatically exceed the contribution limits for state Senate races,” says Murphy. “Essentially, Mayor de Blasio was trying to buy himself New York state Senate control starting in Putnam County.”

Putnam County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Anthony Scannapieco says a few weeks before the 2014 election, he learned through required filings from the Putnam County Democratic Committee of donations he found to be larger than usual.

“You have a county committee which never had more than a $1,000 donation, all of a sudden getting $600-and-something-thousand dollars and immediately sending the money back out to the Senate candidates,” says Scannapieco. “So I said, ‘something’s going on here.’”

It was Scannapieco who filed the complaint in 2014 with the state Board of Elections. And Murphy has called on Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy to investigate. Here’s Tendy:

“I think, at this point, the word investigation is probably unfair. We’re certainly examining it. We’re looking into it but it’s too early to tell whether or not anything possibly illegal happened,” Tendy says. “We’re just doing some fact-finding right now and gathering up as many facts as we possibly can, and then if an investigation is warranted we would certainly look into that.”

Tendy says media reports in recent days prompted him to examine the matter. An attorney for the Putnam County Democratic Committee declined to comment. Murphy has a message for de Blasio.

“Mayor de Blasio, the Hudson Valley’s not for sale. It never has been and never will be,” Murphy says.

Murphy is kicking off his reelection campaign this week.

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