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File the forms Buffalo assemblywoman's lapses are typical of Albany's problems

The problem of Crystal Peoples is really two problems -- one big and the other bigger.

The Buffalo Democrat, who represents the 141st District in the New York State Assembly, hasn't filed legally required campaign finance reports in six years and hasn't paid the $5,455 in resulting fines levied by the State Board of Elections. She has a raft of excuses, none of them sufficient. In the end, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that she didn't do them because she just didn't want to.

And therein lies the bigger problem. State laws are so lax that politicians can get away with just not wanting to. Who's going to stop them? When a state assemblywoman can not only refuse to comply with the law but can willfully ignore the ensuing fines, something is desperately wrong.

It is no coincidence, of course, that politicians such as Peoples write the laws that they flout with impunity. That has always been the problem with Albany. You name it, they manipulate it to benefit incumbents.

They gerrymander political districts. They give themselves walking-around money -- they call it "member items" -- with which to shower favored groups. They write laws on ethics, lobbying, campaign finance and ballot access to give themselves an all-but-insurmountable edge on Election Day.
So it's no surprise that the law on filing campaign finance reports lacks teeth. What purpose is a law that is not, and cannot be, enforced? Perhaps to provide a fig leaf of respectability, but it is certainly not intended to ensure compliance.

The odd thing about the matter is that, while Americans of different political views differ on the value and appropriateness of campaign finance laws, virtually everyone -- conservative, liberal, Democratic, Republican -- agrees on the fundamental issue of disclosure. We may argue over limiting how much money any politician can take from any particular source, but not over the need to declare the names of donors and the amounts they give.
Peoples hasn't done that. Without that information, constituents are helpless in assessing whether her donors influence her voting record. She needs to file those reports immediately, even if it means troublesome records reconstruction, and to pay the fines that have been assessed. That's the first step in treating her constituents with a shred of respect. No more delays, excuses or explanations. Just get it done.

Then she should lead a charge to put enforcement teeth in embarrassing state laws that allow such conduct. Penalties need to be real. Ensuring that would be a good way for her to make amends to voters and to improve a wretchedly inadequate reporting system.

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