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Despite ethics promise by Cuomo, appointees holding campaign cash

At least eight elected officials appointed or nominated to top posts by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have kept campaign finance accounts, a practice long criticized by government watchdogs who say that it opens the door to influence peddling.

An active campaign fund is open to contributions from special interests looking to influence the recipient and allows ex-politicians in patronage jobs to stay in the legislative mix. Funds can be transferred to other politicians, including the governor.

Donations to civic groups back home help maintain political influence, and even if the campaign account isn't tapped, it signals that the person could choose to run for office again, perhaps for a more powerful elected position.

Cuomo, who campaigned on a promise to enact an ethics law to end Albany's notorious "pay-to-play" environment, has a spoken agreement with his appointees not to accept funds or spend money from their political accounts, according to two appointees. Cuomo believes that state laws governing gifts and how campaign funds are spent -- both long criticized as weak by good-government groups -- are enough.

Advocates of good government aren't persuaded.

"So it's just holding on to it, but for what purpose?" said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "I think that's the question everyone would ask: You got this good job, probably through political connections, what are you going to do?"

The latest state reports showing active campaign funds were filed in January. Any spending or collecting of donations since then won't be reported until July.

Cuomo's appointees with open campaign accounts considered "active" by the state Board of Elections include:

* Former State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, a Democrat who narrowly lost his northern New York re-election bid in the fall. He is now the state agriculture commissioner. His account had $18,455 in the most recent filing with the Board of Elections.

* Democratic Assemblywoman Roann Destito. She has been nominated but not yet confirmed to be commissioner of the state Office of General Services. Her account had $218,789. She hasn't yet started the Cuomo administration job but will abide by Cuomo's "nothing in, nothing out" spoken agreement when confirmed, a spokeswoman said.

* Former Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll, whom Cuomo reappointed as president and CEO of the state Environmental Facilities Corp. His account had $47,613.

* Former Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala. She resigned April 1 to become the commissioner of motor vehicles. Her account had $162,142.

* Former Assemblyman Darryl Towns of Brooklyn. He is the commissioner of housing and community renewal. Towns had $7,626 left in his account.

* Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, a Republican who crossed party lines to endorse Cuomo last year, is deputy secretary for local government at the state Department of State. Her account had $7,570. She said the Cuomo administration told her not to accept donations or spend contributions. In 2009, she lost a northern New York congressional race.

* Former Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton, director of the state Canal Corp. His campaign had $20,255. Stratton said his account should be closed by the July 15 filings.

* Former Schenectady County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, who is now assistant deputy commissioner of the state Office of Real Property Tax Services. Her account had $18,055.

The Associated Press began its questioning about Cuomo appointees with open campaign accounts in early March.

A promise to not use the funds isn't enough for Democratic Assemblyman Robert Reilly of Albany County.

"It's not about appearance, it's the simple fact that campaign funds are collected for campaigns," Reilly said. "They are not involved in a campaign; therefore, they should not have a campaign fund."