Tuesday, April 2, 2002

We Are Above the Law

"As solid as the News stories were, they did not point out the case their own facts made for criminal charges. Between May and August of last year, Norman, who is also an assemblyman, got the county party he controls to make three loans totaling $115,000 to the assembly committee he controls. He told reporters that the interest-free loans were used to pay workers in a variety of city campaigns last year. ''The work of the Democratic county organization is performed by the local political clubs,'' he said. ''The various district leaders hire people to go out and give out flyers and to assist with the get-out-the-vote effort.''

The problem is that it's a misdemeanor violation of Section 2-126 of the state election law for a party organization to spend one cent of its money on a primary, or for ''any person representing or acting on behalf of a party or party committee'' to do the same. Since all of these loans--the largest in county party history, according to its spokesman, Jeff Feldman--came during the primary campaign, every expenditure made by Norman's committee designed to aid a primary candidate would constitute a potential misdemeanor. The loans cannot be explained, as Feldman claimed, by calling them ''a bridge loan'' designed to resolve ''a cash-flow problem'' with Norman's committee, since Norman had no race in 2001 and started the year with a $108,193 balance.

Feldman also contends that these so-called loans--which Norman repaid only after he was contacted by the News--don't violate state law because the prohibition covers only expenditures by a party committee, not loans. Presumably, any competent prosecutor could demonstrate that shifting the funds between committees was a transparent circumvention of the party's spending ban.

While misdemeanor violations of the election law are punishable by up to a year in prison, the statutes also provide that a repeated practice of violation can constitute a felony. Since Norman's committee did not report receiving two of the loans, it's not possible to fully determine how much of the party funds were dispersed for primary activities. But clearly some were--for example, immediately after receiving the one reported loan, the committee paid $2133 to a printer and $8000 to two Norman campaign operatives, Carmen Martinez and William Boone."
Village Voice, April 2, 2002