Donating to state pols pays off

The Brooklyn Paper
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Carroll Gardens Assemblywoman Joan Millman and Bay Ridge state Sen. Marty Golden have repeatedly given state grant money to groups and organizations whose leaders have made contributions to their campaigns, a Brooklyn Papers investigation has revealed.

Like all of their legislative colleagues, Millman and Golden control thousands of dollars in grant money, often called “member items,” that they steer to local organizations with little oversight.

But as a result of a lawsuit by the Albany Times-Union, the state legislature was recently forced to reveal all of the recipients of such grants — and the name of the members who funneled the money.

While members often brag in press releases about their role in securing some grants, a complete list has, until now, been secret.

Critics have called the legislature’s $170-million member-item pool a “slush fund” because of the lack of oversight.

In the case of Millman and Golden, a review of the just-released state documents alongside their campaign finance records revealed many civic leaders whose personal campaign contributions were more than matched by the subsequent grant of state money to their organizations.

In Golden’s case, he has sent $140,000 in taxpayer grants to HeartShare Human Services, which is headed by Bensonhurst bigshot William Guarinello.

Guarinello, who is also chair of Community Board 11, and his family have given Golden more than $17,000 in campaign donations since February 2002.

“Obviously, we don’t think it’s quid pro quo,” said HeartShare spokeswoman Tricia Fleming.

Golden steered $370,000 to Agudath Israel for youth and senior programs. Over the years, the senator has received $2,500 in campaign contributions from the agency’s vice president Avrohom Schonberger and treasurer Leon Goldenberg, state records show.

Millman deals in much smaller grant, but doles them out to more contributors, records show. For example:

• Prospect Park Alliance President Tupper Thomas has given $475 to various Millman campaigns — plus hundreds more to other elected officials.

This year, Thomas received $18,000 in grants from various Assemblymembers, including those on her contribution list.

Thomas, a Park Slope resident, also gave $250 to state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge) — and this year, her organization received a $5,000 grant from him.

Thomas said her contributions to the pols had anything to do with their contributions to the group she leads.

“I give to people if they represent me personally,” she said. “These are good representatives who support wonderful programs for the community, and I don’t think that has anything at all to do with contributi­ons.”

• Matthew Pintchik of the Park Slope Volunteer Ambulance Corps gave $1,000 to one of Millman’s campaigns — and the corps later got a $2,000 grant from the assemblywoman.

• Sandy Balboza of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, donated $400 to Millman over six years. This year, her group received $2,000 to produce shopping guides.

Balboza said her relatively small donations to Millman had nothing to do with the grants her group gets from Millman.

“I’m a citizen and I support people running for office who address our issues,” she said. “And that’s personal. What we do with that money is make the community better. That’s economic development.”

Balboza added that grant money her group receives is monitored closely.

“We’re accountable,” she said. “We have to submit bills. That money is strictly used for what it was given for.”

• Sandi Franklin of the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment donated $200 to a Millman campaign. Her group got a $1,500 grant this year.

• Christina Curran of the Fifth Avenue Committee has given Millman $620. This year, her group got a $2,000 grant.

• South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation director Betty Stoltz gave $100 to Millman campaigns. This year, her group got $2,000.

• Pauline Blake and Lydia Denworth of the Park Slope Civic Council each gave Millman $225. In total, the group got $3,500.

“Joan was giving to the Civic Council before I came on the scene,” said Denworth. “If there’s any connection, it’s this: Joan is such a great supporter of these groups that people like me donate to her campaigns because we want to keep her in office so she can keep doing such a good job.”

• Linda Blyer of Family First’s parenting workshop, has donated $130 to various Millman campaigns. This year, her group got a $3,000 grant.

• Brooklyn Arts Council President Ella Weiss and her husband Michael have given $900 to Millman in various campaigns. This year, the arts council got a $6,000 grant.

Millman said “there is some crossover” between her donor list and the recipients of her grants, but said that such donations represent a fraction of her overall grant allocations.

“One doesn’t have anything to do with the other,” she told The Brooklyn Papers. “These are all worthwhile organizations. I wish I could give more.”

Golden also sent a $2,500 grant to underwrite some renovations at the St. Nicholas Home. The center’s director, Aida Nicolau, gave Golden $150 three years ago.

Golden was unapologetic.

“Senator Golden supports the efforts of HeartShare Human Services, the St. Nicholas Home … and organizations [that] are focused and driven on positively impacting the quality of life of our community,” said his spokesman John Quaglione.

Guarinello also gave $150 to retiring Assemblywoman Adele Cohen (D-Coney Island) in 2004. This year, she sent $2,000 to the Fort Hamilton Citizen’s Action Committee, which he heads.

And Regina Berenchtein, who runs the New Way Circus Center, gave Cohen $1,050 in campaign donations. This year, Cohen group got a $5,000 grant from Cohen.

Cohen said the “member item” system was “disgusting.”

“We should not be spending people’s hard-earned money on projects chosen by individual members,” she said. “These things are seniority-driven. If I had been there 10 more years, I might have had more money, but I was not part of the in-crowd.”

She added that the amount of contributions she got was minor.

“No one is going to buy me for $200 a year,” she said.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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