After law enforcement interest in Campaign for One New York, City Hall nonprofit lobbying arm to cease operations

By LOUIS FLORES

The nonprofit lobbying arm used by City Hall to promote the political agenda of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) will be closing.

News of the operational wind-down of the Campaign for One New York was first reported by Josh Dawsey of The Wall Street Journal.

The closure followed reports published by Progress Queens that noted that there was law enforcement interest in the activities of the Campaign for One New York. Three days after Progress Queens published that report, the government watchdog group Common Cause/NY lodged a complaint with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the New York City Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations into allegations that that Mayor de Blasio violated at least two sections of the City Charter as a consequence of the activities of the Campaign for One New York. The complaint also asked the two municipal investigative agencies to issue determinations about the legality of other politicians attempting to create similar structures.

After numerous reports were published, critical of how the Campaign for One New York raised money from corporations and real estate developers with business before New York City, law enforcement attention was inevitable. Indeed, the Campaign for One New York had already been seeking legal counsel. As reported by Progress Queens, the Campaign for One New York had been being legally represented by the law firm of Kantor Davidoff, which also represents The IDC Initiative, the campaign finance committee of the Independent Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate. Kantor Davidoff had been representing The IDC Initiative in a reported probe by the New York State Board of Elections, according to a report filed by the journalist Chris Bragg for The Times Union.

On Wednesday, Progress Queens reported that other law enforcement agencies were likely to join in the municipal probe requested by the Common Cause/NY complaint and that there was a possibility that Mayor de Blasio would not be able to exert any influence over those outside law enforcement agencies.

A focus of Wednesday’s report noted that the existence or lack of existence of firewalls for consultants advising the Campaign for One New York would likely be material in determining whether those consultants may have inappropriately shared confidential information, such as inside information or information protected by attorney-client privilege. The last time the Campaign Finance Board determined that a consulting firm violated requirements to keep political activities separate, as required by law, one campaign consulting firm, The Advance Group, faced fines by the Campaign Finance Board and the Office of the New York State Attorney General. In the instance of the Campaign for One New York, the unregistered lobbying firm, BerlinRosen, provides consultants to manage the media activities of the Campaign for One New York.

Officials with City Hall never responded to a request for comment made by Progress Queens for Wednesday's report.

Requests made by Progress Queens to each of the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board for reaction to news that the Campaign for One New York was closing were not immediately answered.  In the case of the Conflicts of Interest Board, the City Charter requires that its investigations remain confidential, so that office has a policy of not commenting about investigations.

The shuttering of the Campaign for One New York marks the second prominent closure of a politically-connected nonprofit lobbying arm in New York.

Just like the Campaign for One New York, the Committee to Save New York, a nonprofit lobbying arm formed to promote the political agenda of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), was wound down in advance of facing increased legal scrutiny. After raising millions of dollars from special interest groups, the Committee to Save New York was mothballed just as the corruption-fighting panel, known as the Moreland Commission, was set to begin investigating the influence of large, unregulated campaign contributions on public policy.

Each of the Campaign for One New York and the Committee to Save New York received substantial contributions from real estate developers. During the time of the Committee to Save New York’s existence, Gov. Cuomo embraced real estate friendly government policies, like defunding the Tenant Protection Unit, which he created, in a move seen to weaken the enforcement by the state housing agency, the New York State Homes and Community Renewal, of tenant protection laws.

Similarly, Mayor de Blasio has likewise embraced real estate friendly government policies, such as the selling of strategic public assets, such as libraries, community gardens, and apartment buildings of the New York City Housing Authority, to politically-connected real estate developers at distressed prices. Mayor de Blasio now stands at the precipice of signing into law a large giveaway to real estate developers in the form of two text amendments to the city’s zoning code that will give developers the authority to supersize the development of luxury apartment buildings in a move designed to increase gentrification across New York City, thereby acting to boost real estate prices.

Despite the controversial closure of the corruption-fighting Moreland Commission, Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office had seized its working files, subpoenaed records from the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, and made public statements, saying that investigations first begun by the Moreland Commission continue to this day. In relevant public comments made by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the nation’s top Federal prosecutor for New York’s southern district, he has said that sometimes his office quietly conducts investigations once his office learns of political or campaign misconduct so as to gather enough evidence to bring charges against the ringleaders of corruption. 

In January, U.S. Attorney Bharara announced that his office did not have enough evidence to prove a federal crime was committed in the premature closing of the Moreland Commission as it was reportedly set to investigate the activities of some of Gov. Cuomo’s campaign supporters, providing legal relief for Gov. Cuomo over his office’s reported efforts to hobble the Moreland Commission’s work. As of Thursday morning, no prosecutorial office or law enforcement agency has issued a statement clearing any of Mayor de Blasio’s reported acts relative to his own campaign supporters.

It’s unclear if the Conflicts of Interest Board or the Campaign Finance Board will get a chance to issue determinations about the legality of the activities of other nonprofit lobbying groups. Gov. Cuomo has a new nonprofit lobbying arm, the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, and Mayor de Blasio has two more such nonprofit lobbying arms, the Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality and United for Affordable Housing. Already, Common Cause/NY appears to be content to allow politicians to self-regulate their nonprofit political lobbying activities. In response to news that the Campaign for One New York was shuttering, the group's executive director, Susan Lerner, who was traveling out of town earlier this week, issued a statement Thursday, writing, in part, that "we hope others will follow" the Campaign for One New York's decision to close.