By LOUIS FLORES
The scramble by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY) to lead the Democratic Party to majority control of the New York State Senate is testing the bounds of state campaign finance laws.
A major supporter of Mayor de Blasio, Katrina vanden Heuvel, donated $102,300 to the Working Families Party earlier this month, according to state campaign finance records. The same records show that hedge fund trader Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire hedge fund magnate George Soros, made a large contribution in the amount of $75,000 during the summer to the same Working Families Party committee account. Under a strange set of circumstances created by the reluctance by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to campaign for Democratic State Senate candidates, political operatives from the Working Families Party are funding and staffing a campaign for the Democratic Party to win enough seats to form a new majority in the State Senate. News of Ms. vanden Heuvel's donation was first reported by The New York Times.
Other sizable contributions to this same Working Families Party campaign committee account include contributions made by unions and payments from candidates’ campaign committees, including that of Peter Sikora, who was an unsuccessful Democratic Party primary candidate for the 52nd District of the State Assembly in Brooklyn. Mr. Sikora’s campaign committee paid into the same campaign committee account of the Working Families Party $62,940 for consulting services that were provided to his campaign.
These large, seemingly unrestricted contributions to political party accounts highlight some of the concerns raised by the now-defunct Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.
“Truly massive contributions -- over $50,000 to a statewide candidate for office and unlimited checks to party ‘housekeeping’ accounts -- are currently legal in New York. This must end,” the commissioners on the Moreland panel wrote in a press release accompanying the issuance of the panel’s sole report.
Ms. vanden Heuvel is the publisher of the leftist magazine, The Nation. The Nation’s Editorial Board recently penned a controversial editorial, calling on voters to cast their ballots on the Working Families Party line in Tuesday’s general election. The editorial was met with incredulity on social media, because Gov. Cuomo will appear on the Working Families Party ballot line, even though he is seen as a borderline neoliberal/neoconservative by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in New York.
Progressives question how can The Nation rationalise its call for government reform if its publisher is exploiting campaign finance loopholes for sizeable campaign contributions that the Moreland Commission said should end. Attempts by Progress Queens to reach Ms. vanden Heuvel for comment were unsuccessful.
Not everybody at The Nation is going along with toeing the Working Families Party line. Richard Kim, the magazine’s executive editor, wrote his own editorial, dissenting from his own magazine’s Editorial Board, explaining why he was going to vote for Green Party gubernatorial candidate, Howie Hawkins.
Another massive donation made to Mayor de Blasio’s campaign for Democratic Party control of the State Senate includes a contribution of $100,000 made by the union UNITE HERE!, according to a report in The New York Times. To elect Mr. de Blasio as mayor last year, the same union made a sizable contribution that passed through an intermediary group before ultimately winding up in the account of a controversial Super PAC. The Super PAC was later found to have violated city campaign finance laws when a consulting firm administering the Super PAC coordinated its independent expenditures with candidates’ campaign committees that were also managed by the same consulting firm, The Advance Group, according to findings of the city's campaign finance regulatory authority. The possible coordination of sizeable campaign contributions through that Super PAC structure have become the subject of a federal investigation, according to numerous press reports published by The New York Daily News.
The Moreland Commission’s worthwhile recommendations to eradicate campaign finance loopholes were never implemented, because Gov. Cuomo shuttered the panel in a politically-expedient budget maneuver with the State Legislature, triggering, in turn, another possible federal investigation of the Moreland Commission’s premature closure.
“We recommend closing … the party ‘housekeeping’ account loophole that allows unlimited contributions to political parties. We also recommend new limits for transfers from political parties to campaigns,” the commissioners recommended. Lack of any action to adopt these and other Moreland Commission recommendations is what allows Mayor de Blasio and his supporters to funnel massive contributions through party campaign committee accounts to sway political elections in state legislative districts. Though Mayor de Blasio's supporters claim to be motivated by progressive sensibilities, this type of exploitation of campaign finance laws is really no different that what extremist, right-wing billionaires do to further their own conservative sensibilities.
A top de Blasio administration aide, Emma Wolfe, took a leave of absence from her work at City Hall to coordinate the State Senate campaign effort. Ms. Wolfe has been being sought for questioning by an independent prosecutor looking into a campaign finance controversy where a previous unit of the Working Families Party once provided discounted campaign consulting services to its favoured candidates, an arrangement that would give an unfair financial advantage to Working Families-backed candidates.