Supervisor Yvette Aguiar celebrates victory on Election Night with Joann Waski of Jamesport. Photo: Alek Lewis

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar has refunded over $15,000 in campaign contributions that exceeded the legal contribution limit for her office, according to the final campaign disclosure report filed by her campaign committee with the State Board of Elections yesterday.

The excess contributions were refunded on Oct. 28, the day RiverheadLOCAL published an article about Aguiar’s campaign fundraising that noted her committee took in thousands in excess contributions from over a dozen contributors. See prior story: “Big donors boost Aguiar in closing days of campaign.” (Oct. 28.)

In the 2021 election cycle, the campaign election contribution limit for Riverhead Town candidates was set at $1,185, per a statutory formula, which means a candidate for town office in Riverhead could not accept more than $1,185 from any one donor. 

In interviews on Oct. 26, Aguiar and her treasurer, Paul Carr, who is also her husband, insisted that corporations had a $5,000 contribution limit and her campaign committee, Taxpayers for Aguiar, could accept up to $5,000 from a corporation. They called RiverheadLOCAL’s inquiry into the subject and questions about her campaign contributors politically motivated. Carr denounced the inquiry as “a witch hunt.”

There is a $5,000 limit on corporate contributions in New York’s campaign finance law, but the limit is the corporation’s limit, not the candidate’s. A corporation or limited liability company can contribute up to $5,000 in campaign contributions in a calendar year. The corporation’s limit does not affect the maximum a candidate can receive. This is clearly stated in campaign finance instructional materials published by the State Board of Elections on its website and in a handbook for candidates published by the state agency. RiverheadLOCAL confirmed this with a spokesperson for the New York State Board of Elections on Oct. 25.

On Oct. 27, the day before the refunds were made, according to the candidate’s latest filing, Aguair made a $15,000 loan to her campaign committee. The total amount of donations refunded by the committee the next day was $15,290.

Aguiar could not be reached today for comment.

In an interview this evening, Carr said he was transparent, always reported everything and returned the overages. “I saw the guidance of the New York State Board of Elections during the entire campaign and I refunded the contributions which would give over the allowable amount, and it’s reflected in the 27-day report,” Carr said.

On Oct. 28, the Aguiar campaign refunded excess contributions from Closet Quest Inc., Island Water Park Group, L.I. Drag Racing Club, Park Strategies Corp, Rand Industrial Group Inc, and Squad Security, so that the donors’ contributions in the 2021 election cycle no longer exceed the candidate’s $1,185 limit.

Aguiar on Oct. 28 also refunded $1,815 from Red Apple Group, a company owned by billionaire John Catsimatidis, owner of United Metro Terminal in Calverton and United Riverhead Terminal in Northville. Red Apple Group made a $3,000 contribution to Aguair’s campaign committee on July 29, according to an amended 32-day pre-general election disclosure report filed yesterday, but the contribution was omitted from the original report filed on its Oct. 1 due date and from three subsequently filed amended reports for that disclosure period. The $1,815 refund took Red Apple Group’s contribution down to the candidate’s $1,185 election limit. 

In addition to amending the 32-day pre-general report four times, the supervisor’s campaign also amended its July periodic disclosure report four times. Seven of the eight amended reports were filed after the Nov. 2 election.

Both a candidate and a campaign committee treasurer face a civil penalty equal to the excess contribution amount plus a fine of $10,000 for violating the contribution limits established by statute, according to New York State Election Law. In addition, they would also be required to refund the excess amount. A contribution is not considered in excess of the statutory limit until Election Day, State Board of Elections spokesperson John Conklin told RiverheadLOCAL last month.

Prior to the refunds and any post-Election Day amendments to prior reports, Aguiar had raised more than $115,000 in campaign contributions this election cycle, including $3,648 in the final reporting period (Oct. 18-Nov. 25.)

Aguiar was reelected Nov. 2 to a second two-year term by nearly 60% of the vote.

Correction: Due to an error this article was originally posted with an incorrect byline.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]