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The Party’s Overspent

by Ali Hibbs on January 19, 2011

State Senate Democrats didn’t just lose their majority; they lost control of their finances

New York State Senate Democrats have come under scrutiny lately for the way they manage their own finances. The outgoing majority and the party’s senatorial campaign committee both seem to have been spending far beyond their means for more than a year.

Exact totals are still unknown, but monthly expenditures appear to have been $1.1 million more than the $2.3 million that was allocated for Democratic Senate staffing. This is primarily due to the Senate coup of two years ago that left the Democrats briefly without power when three Democratic senators voted with the Republican bloc. The insurgent senators eventually returned to ranks, but not before upsetting the balance of leadership within the party. One result of this struggle was increased spending for new party leaders and additional monies provided to senate Republicans.

Some of the money was spent on undisclosed expenses for then-Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), who benefited significantly from the events of 2009, and the failure to reduce the staff of Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) after he was replaced as majority leader. This has caused anger among some senators on both sides of the aisle.

There is also reason to believe that this spending behavior contributed to the recent split of four Democratic senators from the main party. The newly formed Independent Democratic Conference is composed of Jeffrey Klein (Bronx/Westchester), Diane Savino (Staten Island/Brooklyn), David Valesky (Oneida) and David Carlucci (Rockland). Many of the things the IDC is championing are fiscally based, including the call to streamline government and curb wasteful spending, although Klein has been accused of being just as culpable as the rest of the Democratic leadership.

“There was some additional money available,” said Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany), the new deputy minority leader and Democratic chairman of the transition committee. “When the Republicans won in November, they came to the transition committee and told us that we had to reduce our spending to get it back in line and, coincidentally, today is that day,” he said Wednesday,” said Breslin. “We were spending at a rate of $41 million and had to get down to $28 million by January 19.” He also said that, as of Tuesday, they had brought the budget back down to well under that figure.

Breslin attributed the savings to belt-tightening and restricted spending, the reduction in party leadership and attendant staffing costs, as well as the “unfortunate” widespread layoffs. He specifically mentioned the absence of Espada as a significant source of savings. “He was beaten,” said Breslin. “Thankfully.”

In addition to governmental budgetary woes, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee overshot its budget by approximately $3 million last year. Somewhat ironically, most of that money went to outside consulting businesses during the generally unsuccessful campaign season. Most notably, the Parkside Group received more than 80 percent of DSCC business following the removal of Red Horse Strategies as the committee’s main consultant. DSCC executive director Josh Cherwin has raised some eyebrows over his management of committee contracts and finances—most notably due to an audit he claimed to have done but was never able to produce.

Mentioning that Jeff Klein had been in charge of the committee for the last few years, Breslin acknowledged that there had “been arguments back and forth,” but also said that a number of close campaigns during the midterm elections had become very expensive. “Democrats overspent. You can point fingers, but now our job is to get rid of that debt.”

Klein was unable to be reached for comment in time for publication.
When asked how the committee would close the gap in time for the next election cycle, Breslin (who is now a deputy chair of the DSCC) stated flatly, “Fundraising.” He also expressed confidence in the new Chairman of DSCC, Michael Gianaris. “I expect him to do a wonderfully good job. He’s very capable.”