Davis proposes full ban on pay-to-play money

Patrick Davis, right, and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus at Times Herald-Record debate on Wednesday

The question for the Orange County executive candidates on Wednesday was whether they would ask the county Legislature to insert the words “limited liability company” into the county’s 2013 Pay to Play Law to close a glaring loophole.

But Patrick Davis, the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Steve Neuhaus, said he’d go much further during their debate at the Times Herald-Record. He said he would propose banning all campaign donations to the county executive from companies that have or are seeking county contracts, rather than limiting how much they may give. The 2013 law lets them give the county executive up to $4,000 over a four-year term.

Taking any campaign money at all from companies with business interests before the county is bad for the office itself, he argued.

“It’s not an ethically safe place to be, and it compromises the integrity of the office and of the individual sitting in it,” Davis said. “And it’s just a way to protect the county executive from allegations of conflicts of interest in making decisions that aren’t in the best interests of the people.”

Neuhaus said in response that the county has a strong campaign finance law and that he has “lived within those rules.” He also taunted his opponent for his fundraising efforts, saying Davis had hired a consultant to help and yet “he can’t raise a dime.” Then he complained that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein – whose campaign finance reform proposals Davis invoked – raises more more than him and has some of the same contributors, but faces no criticism.

“There’s not a peep about it,” he said.

Neuhaus also seemed to dismiss any mercenary interest on the part of his donors, saying, “People believe in what we’re working on, whether they work for the county or not.”

Asked again the specific question – if he would ask lawmakers to close the LLC loophole by adding those three words – Neuhaus was noncommittal.

“I have no problem either way on it,” he said. “I just want one thing: I want a fair playing ground. So if I’m running against somebody, they shouldn’t be exempt from those type of restrictions.”

The county law does apply to candidates, as well as current office holders.

Under that law, county contractors can’t give the county executive more than $4,000 per term. But businesses organized as limited liability companies have been allowed to give Neuhaus more. County Attorney Langdon Chapman argues LLCs are exempt from the limit because the Pay to Play Law didn’t include that specific term in its definition of entities that are covered.

Davis, in his remarks, also called the state’s campaign finance laws “a mess” and criticized in particular the $10,900 individual donation limit, which is more than triple the $2,700 maximum one person can give a congressional candidate per election under federal rules.

“It’s crazy that people, individuals can give more to a county-level race than they can give to someone running for Congress,” he said.

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    Chris McKenna

    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full
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