By Mark Hallum
State Board of Elections filings show state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) reported receiving funds for his campaign from a committee ruled in violation of election law by a Supreme Court judge on Aug. 24.
The filings indicate $42,000 was added to the account Tony Avella For New York from the state Independence Campaign Committee up to two months after all funds accepted by former Independent Democratic Conference members through the account were ordered by both the court and Board of Elections to be returned.
Avella has taken about $145,000 from the fund since 2016, and it was ruled by Justice Kimberly O’Connor illegal June 5 since the officers on the campaign committee were not members of the Independence Party and the BOE established a deadline of Aug. 5 to return about $1.4 million.
A spokesman for Avella, however, claims the SICC fund had been adjusted to meet the requirements needed to make it legal after the ruling, which he claimed left room for interpretation by not explicitly requiring the funds to be returned.
Avella is facing a challenge from former city Comptroller John Liu in the Sept. 13 primary for the second time after defeating him in 2014.
“The court did not direct Independent Democratic Conference members to return any funds received from the SICC,” spokesman Jeff Frediani said. “What is an election law violation is scandal-ridden John Liu and the $26,000 he was fined by the Board of Elections just last year for using straw donors and campaign finance violations.”
Avella is now also running on the Independence Party line, making the fund legal for the use of his campaign as specified by the court, according to Frediani.
“Tony Avella claims over and again that the IDC is dissolved, yet he keeps taking money from a fund set up specifically for the group.” Liu spokeswoman Heather Stewart said. “Every time Avella takes money from SICC, he is fortifying his alliance with the Independent Democratic Conference. When the IDC reconvenes after the election, after he has taken all of that money, how could Tony Avella say no to rejoining? More importantly, how can voters in District 11 trust him?”
The now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference saw rogue, Democratic politicians break away from the party to caucus separately and negotiate with the GOP majority to pass legislation. It raised the ire of activists and politicians loyal to the mainline Democratic Party, particularly after the victory of Donald Trump shook the nation.
The IDC dissolved in April after an ultimatum was issued by establishment Dems, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who told the members of the conference to return to the party and help achieve a Democratic majority in the state Senate or face primary challenges.
Carla DiMarco, associate counsel to the state BOE, said further enforcement would be pursued in order to oversee the return of the funds in late July through a letter to lawyers representing the former IDC members and other officers who accepted funds from the account.
Although all eight members of the IDC returned to the mainline Democratic Party, many are facing primary challenges for Sept. 13.
Avella’s former IDC colleague, Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), is facing a challenge from former Mayor Bill de Blasio staffer Jessica Ramos.
Up to $71,000 taken by Avella from the SICC was prior to the June 5 ruling with $32,000 being filed on July 12.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall