Campaign Financing

While the timing of the complaint may have been part of October’s political warfare, the issue is serious and merits attention

    In a last-minute attempt to tarnish a Democratic-leaning organization, East Hampton Republicans recently sent a formal protest to the New York State Board of Elections about the East Hampton Conservators, a self-described political action committee founded by the actor Alec Baldwin, among others. While the timing of the complaint may have been part of October’s political warfare, the issue is serious and merits attention.

    The Republican letter to the state accused the Conservators of breaking the law by buying advertisements in this newspaper and others promoting specific candidates. The law requires such organizations as political parties and candidates’ campaign committees, which spend money in support of specific candidates, to comply with more detailed campaign finance reporting than political action committees.

    Nonaffiliated committees like the Conservators may give money to others to buy advertising, for example, but the minute they name a candidate in their own advertising it would appear that they can no longer follow the rules for PACs but the same requirements as traditional committees. In other words, organizations that spend money on behalf of specific candidates must file reports as if they were political committees. After the G.O.P. letter was made public, the Conservators said they would file the necessary paperwork stating their support of specific candidates.

    The complaint and the Conservators’ response raise the question of whether other groups, for example the East Hampton Aviation Association, which bought ad space here and elsewhere thanking Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who was running for re-election to the East Hampton Town Board, might also have had to meet the more stringent campaign finance requirements of political committees. Under the election law, it would appear that these groups, too, would have to do so if they cross the line.

    Without explicit direction from the state, however, it is difficult to say if the aviation association’s thank-you to Mr. Stanzione in the newspapers immediately preceding the election should have triggered these filing requirements. A lack of clarity in the rules makes it tricky to say just which groups should be submitting exactly what. Further guidance from state lawmakers may well be needed.