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NYDN – 49 Political Staffers in Conflict of Interest Web

December 13, 2009

More problems are arising for State Senator Marty Golden. This is a recent story from The Daily News:

Legislative staffer Carl Gucciardi does his best to keep separate his simultaneous roles as an aide to Sen. Diane Savino – and as her campaign treasurer. It’s not easy.

“Oh, geez,” Gucciardi said when the Daily News called him at the Democratic senator’s Staten Island office to ask how he avoided mixing the two. “We shouldn’t have this conversation on a state phone.”

Gucciardi, who is Savino’s $50,000-a-year research assistant, is one of 49 legislative staffers who also serve as treasurer of their boss’ political campaigns.

One in five of New York‘s 212 state legislators relied on this two-for-one deal in the last two years, a New York Public Interest Research Group preview of campaign and payroll records show.

It’s not illegal, but it’s a loophole that can create conflicts, good government advocates say.

For instance, workers who know who’s writing campaign checks may treat a donor’s request to meet with the legislator more favorably.

“Knowing that a request is from a constituent who is also a campaign contributor does raise some ethical issues,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens Union.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause said the arrangement is unhealthy because pols always need campaign donors. “The truth of the matter in legislative offices is that the call slips are arranged depending on the importance of the caller,” she said. “We have allowed a system to be created and continue where fund-raising is 2-4/7, 12 months out of the year. Our elected officials are on a fund-raising hamster wheel.”

The News found staffers caught in an awkward dance to dodge conflicts. Some carry two cell phones: one for staff, one for campaign. Others step out of state offices to discuss campaign business.

Take Jason Koppel. As the $134,992-a-year chief of staff to Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), he helps control access to the senator. As his campaign treasurer, he also collects donations.

He sees no problem wearing both hats, insisting he doesn’t wear both at the same time. He says he always switches to a cell phone and private e-mail when talking about campaign matters.

“The work is done not in a legislative office but … off premises,” he said. “Anybody who comes here [with a check] is given a campaign phone number.”

With former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno‘s conviction last week highlighting Albany‘s many conflicts of interest, many aides declined to even discuss their dual roles on office phones.

“Can I give you a call back from a different phone?” said Robin Mueller, a $48,984-a-year legislative aide to Sen. John Flanagan (R-L.I.) who also volunteers as his campaign treasurer. She didn’t call back, but Flanagan did.

“We work very hard to make sure there are absolute walls between one and the other,” Flanagan said. “She basically does all her work at home on a laptop.”

New York’s rules are vague. Laws bar pols from using public resources to campaign, but don’t detail how to do it.

The U.S. House Rules of Conduct specifically state staffers must not perform campaign work “in congressional offices.”

In Albany, the Senate and Assembly have no such written rule. Employees are merely told that’s the rule in annual ethics training, saidDan Weiller, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). “We tell staff members every year that you cannot do this on Assembly time, period,” he said. “If anybody’s doing anything out of their offices, that would be misuse of Assembly funds.”

Marilyn Foley, campaign treasurer for Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-L.I.) and also his $50,000-a-year administrative assistant, suggested that laws barring pols from using their offices for partisan purposes were unrealistic. “How can you have a politician manning an office and say, ‘Don’t do politics in the office?'” she asked.

She said political work can crop up during the workday. Her solution is simple: “If I have anything [political] that comes in during the day, I deal with it at night or over the weekend.”

She said political work can crop up during the workday. Her solution is simple: “If I have anything [political] that comes in during the day, I deal with it at night or over the weekend.”

In the U.S. House, staffers who engage in campaign activity must keep “careful records” and “demonstrate that campaign work was not done on official time.”

Only one of the New York legislators reached by The News required staffers to do that – Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester).

Albany staffers admit the arrangement can be awkward.

Troy Waffner was director of policy development and campaign treasurer for Assemblyman William Magee (D-Madison) for 12 years. “The line can be blurry, but in your heart of hearts you always know where the line is,” he said.

Jasmin Clavasquin, $74,000-a-year chief of staff and campaign treasurer for Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera (D-Bronx), said she does campaign work after hours. “Why should it be a conflict?” she asked.

Rivera said he told Clavasquin “it’s a no-no” to bring contributions to the office.

Assemblyman Robert Reilly (D-Clifton Park) said a constituent once walked into his district office with $1,000 in an envelope. “He said, ‘I have a problem, and I want to talk to the assemblyman,'” Reilly recalled.

Reilly said he returned the money and told his staff: “Tell this guy if he wants to come in and see me, he can come in and see me.”

  1. Riddle Me This permalink
    December 15, 2009 1:04 am

    I bet Jeff Kraus is on that list…

    Look at this earlier comment someone posted:

    Conflict of Interest and Ethics Violations in the style of Marty Golden, Craig “The Duke” Eaton, Gerry O’Brien and Co.

    According to the print edition of the New York Daily News, Jeffrey F. Kraus is a paid campaign treasurer/aide/counselor for State Senator Martin Golden (R). His annual salary in that “golden” capacity is $24,300.00 USC. Pun intended!

    Dr. Jeffrey F. Kraus, Chair of the NYC Voter Assistance Commission, a city agency.

    Professor and Associate Provost at Wagner College on Staten Island.

    B.A., Brooklyn College, CUNY; M.A., M. Phil., Ph.D., City University of New York

    Jeffrey Kraus has been at Wagner College since 1988. Prior to coming to Wagner, Kraus spent seven years at Kingsborough Community College and one year at Baruch College. His research interests include campaigns and elections, political parties, and urban politics. At Wagner, Kraus teaches courses in the field of American politics.

    Courses Taught: Political Science 103-American Government, PS205-Urban Politics, PS207-New York Politics, PS211-Public Administration, PS212-Congress and National Policy Making: The Legislative Process, PS213-The Presidency, PS215-Law and Justice in America, PS217-Parties, Elections and Mass Media, PS312-Public Policy, PS314-The Politics of Urban Policy Development, PS316-Constitutional Law.

    Office Phone: (718) 390-3254

  2. The Empire Shrugs Back permalink
    December 15, 2009 2:45 am

    Title: The Empire Shrugs Back! – An Opera In Space…Over Brooklyn

    Today’s Episode: With the tacit approval of Darth Eaton, paid political bounty hunter Boba Fett looks to take Atlas down and bring one of its own to political consultant and gangster Jabba the Hutt.

    With An All-Star Cast Starring:

    Craig Eaton as Darth
    Marty Golden as The Emperor
    John Galt as Luke
    Midas Mulligan as The Wookie
    Gerry O’Brien as Jabba the Hutt
    Jeffrey Kraus as Boba Fett
    With Dagny Taggart as Princess Leia
    And Francisco D’Anconia as Han Solo

  3. The Empire Shrugs Back permalink
    December 15, 2009 3:10 am

    Title: The Empire Shrugs Back! – An Opera In Space…Over Brooklyn

    Today’s Prequel: When the Senator Golden (known in the Galactic Senate by his nickname “Palpatine”) has no further use for his Sith counterpart Dooku (aka Hy Singer), he instructs a budding Darth Eaton (known as “Anakin” in his innocent years) to politically execute Dooku.

    With An All-Star Cast Starring:

    Craig Eaton as Darth (“Anakin”)
    Marty Golden as The Great Chancellor and Senator (“Palpatine”)
    With Hy Singer as Dooku
    And Arnaldo Ferraro as Obi-Wan

    Obi-Wan Ferraro, knowledgeable that Dooku has been removed as GOP Overlord, looks to stop a younger Darth Eaton. They meet in Red Hook to decide who will lead: The Senator’s Choice, or the Master Ferraro and his 49th AD Jedi.

    “I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over.” – Darth

    “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” – Darth

    “You underestimate my power!” – Darth

    In the wake of the battle, the Senator, now Emperor, rushes to save his beloved Darth Eaton and transform him into the monster we know him to be today. Afterward, Darth contributes handsomely to the Emperor’s campaign.

  4. Wag-the-Dog permalink
    December 15, 2009 2:57 pm

    I wasn’t at the Kings Conservative Party affair at Yellow Hook last night (12/14). Another committment ran late, and I could’t drop in on my friends among the Conservatives and their “friends” among the Republicans. But I have since gotten several calls about the goings on there.

    First, apropos this article, Jerry Kassar’s daytime boss is State Senator Marty Golden. Jerry Kassar is also the Kings County Chairman of the NYS Conservative Party, hence controls the Wilson-Pakula for his boss MG to run on the Conservative line. SSMG was the headline guest at the Conservative Party’s Holiday Gala at Yellow Hook, partly owned by one of Mike Long’s sons. (Does anyone detect a pattern with where some of these holiday parties are being held?)

    I was told that only Jerry spoke, but without his main “MIKE”. Craig Eaton was there chatting up various people, but also had no access to Jerry Kassar’s main “MIKE”.

    Based on just a hand-full of calls, we are prepared to make a call in the 2010 race for congress in the 13th CD (my polling technique is adopted from the venerable model of “Liberty” magazine’s Roosevelt-Landon poll). Our exit polling from the Conservative Party Holiday Party indicates that Michael McMahon is the projected winner in the 2010 election —this is a hold for the Democrats. I really hope this is my “Dewey Beats Truman” moment, but I doubt it.

    Mike Grimm and Mike Alligretti (briefly) were there, but as reported above, the only “MIKE” that really counts for the Republican hopes in the 13th CD was not there (hint: it wasn’t Mike McMahon, the predicted winner; it was the “MIKE” that controls the Conservative’s Wilson-Pakula for the 13th CD).

    I’ll have other tid-bits about this grand event, after i get some confirmation. However, just remember, politically, nothing really happened—because there was no live “MIKE”.

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