Albany Agenda

BOE mails paper checks to state legislative candidates, delaying matching funds

Rather than electronically depositing funds in campaigns’ accounts, the state Board of Elections sent paper checks worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates.

Assembly Member Ron Kim was one of many candidates who received state matching funds in the form of a paper check.

Assembly Member Ron Kim was one of many candidates who received state matching funds in the form of a paper check. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The state Public Campaign Finance Board approved the first round of matching funds during a meeting on May 7, with an issuance date of roughly a week later on May 13. But many candidates were left waiting for days – in some cases nearly a week – to actually receive their public funds. Several of those candidates were surprised to learn the reason for that delay. They were expecting direct deposit, but wound up receiving a paper check in the mail for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

City & State reached out to 16 of the 37 candidates who qualified for matching funds and learned that most of them had received paper checks. Only five had received their matching funds through direct deposit, with the money hitting their accounts on May 16, three days after the issuance date given by the Public Campaign Finance Board. The rest received checks by mail in the days that followed; at least one candidate didn’t receive a check until Monday, a full week after the funds were issued. Long Island state Senate candidate Siela Bynoe, who received the highest payout in the first round of matching funds disbursements, was sent a paper check for $352,000. 

Many of the candidates who received checks were surprised when their matching funds arrived by mail. The Public Campaign Finance Handbook, which lays out the rules and guidelines for candidates looking to participate in the fledgling matching funds program, states that candidates who qualify for public dollars “will receive those funds by means of an electronic payment.” In a section entitled “How a Campaign Will Receive Matching Funds,” the handbook states that campaigns “will receive funds via an Electronic Funds Transfer.”

“We expected a direct deposit, and my treasurer was emailing the auditor every day to ask where the funds were,” said Long Island Assembly candidate Skyler Johnson. He said he only found out that his nearly $77,000 in matching funds would come as a check when it arrived in the mail on Friday. Assembly Member Ron Kim of Queens said he didn’t know there was a choice. “We assumed it was direct and waited patiently early last week,” he said. His campaign received a check for over $112,000 on Saturday.

A spokesperson for the state Board of Elections, of which the Public Campaign Finance Board is a part, said that method of payment depended on how campaign treasurers set up their accounts with the Statewide Financial System. That’s done through the state comptroller’s office, not the Board of Elections. “No treasurer should have been surprised to receive a check, as the treasurer is the one who chooses between direct deposit and a physical check during that SFS account set up,” state BOE spokesperson Kathleen McGrath wrote in an email. 

Manhattan Assembly candidate Eli Northrup, who only received his funds on Monday, said that he “100% would prefer direct deposit (because) every dollar counts every minute.” He said he wasn’t sure if the choice between the check and direct was an option that he missed while filling out the campaign finance paperwork. “No one in their right mind and on purpose would want that check with USPS,” said one consultant working on a campaign who asked not to be named.

Some candidates knew that they would be receiving paper checks, even though they would have preferred direct deposit. Brooklyn Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, who received a paper check for nearly $125,000, told City & State that she “forgot” to fill out the additional paperwork required to get the funds sent to her bank account. Hudson Valley Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha, who received a paper check for $161,000, said that her campaign had filled out the additional paperwork for direct deposit too late to get the funds wired for the first round of payments.

McGrath, the state BOE spokesperson, wrote that the agency "strongly encouraged” (emphasis hers) campaigns to sign up for direct deposit during mandatory training sessions on the program. “We would encourage any treasurers who received a check to log into their SFS account and update the payment method before future issuance dates,” she added. 

Unlike the state BOE, the New York City Campaign Finance Board – which runs the city’s older matching funds program – defaults to direct deposit. Candidates in that program are not given a choice between paper checks and direct deposit.

When asked whether the state BOE takes any security measures to ensure that the paper checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars are sent and received properly through the mail, McGrath deferred to the state comptroller’s office. When reached for comment, though, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office deferred back to the BOE. “In this case, the Board of Elections (BOE) submits a voucher to OSC for payment which includes the address to which the check should be sent,” said spokesperson Matthew Sweeny. “You might check with BOE on how they validate the address.”