Schaffer loans $200,000 to Suffolk Dems

Rick Brand

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has loaned the party $200,000 to pay withholding taxes for hundreds of paid canvassers who got out the vote for Steve Bellone's election as county executive in November.

Schaffer tapped personal savings for two no-interest loans -- $150,000 on Dec. 23 and another $50,000 on Jan. 9, the day before the $158,321 payment of the state and federal taxes. The loans were disclosed in the Suffolk Democratic Committee's Jan. 15 campaign finance report.

"I had $211,000 in savings," said Schaffer. "Now I have $11,000 left."

Schaffer said he only became aware of the potential tax liability when the party hired an expert to handle processing and payments for the 650 canvassers, who made calls and knocked on doors to get Democratic supporters to the polls.

The Democrats' intense get-out-the-vote effort -- its largest ever -- helped Bellone win county executive and maintain a coalition majority in the county legislature in a low-turnout election. Bellone, the former Babylon supervisor, spent $3.56 million and the party another $2 million in the race against Republican Angie Carpenter, the Suffolk treasurer.

Schaffer said the original campaign budget had anticipated paying canvassers as independent contractors, as if they were in business for themselves rather than salaried employees. That would have incurred no tax liability for the party. But Schaffer said he was told the party could have been liable for heavy penalties if it didn't pay the taxes. "The bottom line is we wanted to do things the right way," Schaffer said.

Schaffer said his loans will give the committee a cushion for operating expenses until the party holds its next fundraiser in March. The loan papers stipulate repayment by November.

Asked about Schaffer's loan, Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said, "He's perfectly able to loan the party money -- obviously they were short. If they want to loan us some money we could use it." The most recent filing shows county Republicans have $11,188 in several accounts.

The Democrats' campaign report shows the party with $173,266 on hand after paying the tax bill.

Schaffer said the loans had no connection with his appointment earlier this month to his old job as Babylon Town supervisor, which pays $104,676 a year. He also makes $95,000 a year as party leader.

Carpenter, the county treasurer, meanwhile has shifted $60,000 left over from her losing campaign into her county treasurer campaign account, leaving $21,210 in her county executive fund. She says she plans to run for re-election.

Bellone raised $202,867 from a post-election fundraiser in December, but spent $189,741 on leftover campaign costs, leaving his Bellone 2011 campaign fund with $23,041.