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Scozzafava makes $100 donation from political account, to the ire of good-government groups

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava used money left over from her political days to support U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, violating the wishes of good-government groups and, possibly, her new boss.

But, to the chagrin of those good-government groups that say it creates undue influence, it did not violate any law.

The June donation came from the Committee to Elect Dierdre K. Scozzafava, a candidate committee that still had money left over even after she left elected office in 2010. She was appointed in January to become deputy secretary of state for local governments.

“Unfortunately, in New York state, there is absolutely nothing wrong it,” said Barbara G. Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. “In the scheme of Albany and Washington, this is a very small donation. ... But we would certainly prefer that the money came from her and not from her previous campaign coffers.”

In April, the Associated Press quoted Ms. Scozzafava as saying that she was working on closing her account, and that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration had instructed its appointees not to raise or donate cash from political accounts.

“I’m in the process of closing down that account, so that was one donation,” she said Monday. “That is a legal use of the campaign fund.”

She also said that the Cuomo administration informed its appointees that they “did not want a lot of activity” in the accounts, but denied there was an outright ban.

The problem with such donations, Ms. Bartoletti said, is that when somebody makes a campaign contribution, he does it to help get out a like-minded candidate’s message. Wielding influence after they’re out of office is far from the original intent.

“What this does is creates undue influence,” she said.

Some cases in the state were more egregious than a $100 donation, Ms. Bartoletti said. One state senator’s campaign account continued to donate money to candidates in the state even after his death.

“Of the 36 states that have campaign finance laws, ours are the most lax,” she said. “Even though $100 is a meager amount, we think it would be far better if candidates who are no longer candidates for an elected office gave the money to charity or the campaign contributors.”

As of July 11, Ms. Scozzafava had $2,564 left in the account. She said she hopes to have it closed by January, before the next political cycle begins.

Her support for Mr. Owens comes as very little surprise. A Republican, she faced off against Mr. Owens, a Plattsburgh Democrat, in a 2009 special election. But tea party firebrand Douglas L. Hoffman, and his accusations that she wasn’t conservative enough, forced Ms. Scozzafava from the race.

She dropped out, throwing her endorsement to Mr. Owens, who went on to win. She has continued to campaign for him since.

“I think he’s doing a good job in representing the north country,” she said. “I think he’s taking a very centrist approach to his style.”

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