“Follow the money” is a phrase popularized by “All The President’s Men” and has come to be a mantra for those doing watchdog reporting.

But as the New York Public Interest Research Group found in a report released this morning, following the money when it comes to political campaigns in New York can be difficult to do.

That’s because the state Board of Elections often fail to enforce existing campaign-finance laws in a system that good-government advocates note has glaring loopholes to begin with.

“Every year, hundreds of donors give more money than is allowed by state law that has highest limits of any state capping donation size; scores of candidates fail to disclose large contributions received in the run-up to Election Day; thousands of filings obfuscate the identity of donors or the purpose of expenditures through the inclusion of incomplete or incorrect information; and dozens of incumbent lawmakers spend campaign funds for what reasonable people would unanimously agree are non-campaign reasons,” the report found.

NYPIRG is basing its study in part on two Freedom of Information Law requests over the past year that found enforcement actions from the state BOE have resulted in “modest fines” levied on committees that filed their disclosures reports late over the last five years.

But the group says there are 2,328 active committees with more than $31.1 million in the bank that haven’t disclosed any transactions since the last filing deadline.

Those committees include ones run by disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, a committee run by former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy who left office following allegations that his campaign contributions were investigated by the district attorney and a dormant effort to recall Sen. Greg Ball.

The report blames the lack of enforcement on both budget cuts to the elections board and its inherently partisan structure.

NYPIRG’s numbers guru Bill Mahoney will be on Capital Tonight at 8 and 11:30 to discuss the report with Liz.

NYPIRG – $31M in Campaign Funds Missing in Action