Another name has been added to the expanding list of politicians accused of illegal activity following mistakes made in their financial disclosure reports.
Michele Adolphe, whose campaign for a Brooklyn seat in the state Assembly met with defeat last year, was arrested on Nov. 18. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged Adolphe with failing to file campaign finance disclosure statements with the state Board of Elections in her bid to challenge Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte for the Democratic primary nomination.
The importance of compliance
In the complaint filed in Albany City Court, Adolphe was hit with three Class A misdemeanor counts. The Times Union, an Albany daily newspaper, reported that each count leveled against Adolphe corresponds to an alleged failure to file three separate campaign finance reports as required by New York State Election Law. According to a press release from the Attorney General's office, these laws demand that candidates file reports disclosing their campaign contributions to ensure transparency and accountability in state elections.
"Knowingly and willfully failing to file campaign finance disclosure reports with the New York State Board of Elections is a crime," said Schneiderman in the release. "My office will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the public trust is not undercut by candidates for public office who fail to properly disclose their campaign's financial activity."
If Adolphe is convicted she will face up to one year in jail for each count. In court on Nov. 18 she pleaded not guilty to the charges, which the attorney general's office admits are only accusations at this point in time. She has since been released on her own recognizance.
Adolphe's arrest came as a surprise to many in New York's political establishment because in the past the failure to file disclosure reports was very rarely considered worthy of legal retribution. In 2013, the New York Public Interest Research Group released a reform blueprint after a previous investigation found that thousands of political action committees had either filed late or not at all without ever being reprimanded. Even with the announcement of the NYPIRG's data, most experts predicted that little would change. It appears they may have been mistaken.
"Adolphe's arrest follows a growing trend of state government-applied pressure."
A national trend
The arrest of an unsuccessful candidate for New York Assemblywoman seems to follow a growing trend nationwide of local and state government-applied pressure on candidates and their campaign committees. The Times Union described how, for several years, critics charged the Board of Elections with borderline incompetence in the enforcement of election law compliance.
Rampant criticism led to the creation of the state Board of Elections in 2014. "The public has the right to know who contributes to campaigns and how candidates spend those contributions," said Risa Sugarman, the Board of Elections' chief enforcement counsel, according to the New York Post. The case against Adolphe is one of the first conducted by Sugarman since her office was formed last year.
Some advocates for campaign finance reform have expressed a lack of enthusiasm for Adolphe's arrest, suggesting that she represents a convenient public relations victory – considering how she has never actually held elected office – rather than a sincere case of the Board of Elections fulfilling its new, more aggressive stance.
Meanwhile Adolphe's attorney, Steven Alfasi, pointed to how unusual the charges leveled against his client were. "The officer taking down Ms. Adolphe's pedigree and information said that it's only the second time he's ever seen these charges brought in his 20-year-career," Alfasi told the Post. "Most candidates don't know anything about their filings."
Mr. Alfasi is correct. In many cases, candidates leave the intricacies of FEC and state-level reporting, and the election laws dictating said reporting, to their campaign committees and support groups. Adolphe's arrest should serve as a warning to campaign committees and PACs alike: Stay up to date on Federal and State campaign finance laws and make sure you file your reports on time. The current political climate simply doesn't leave you room for error.