By LOUIS FLORES
Progress Queens is publishing the documents describing one of many campaign finance scandals that reportedly threaten the political career of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City).
After two New York State Republican Party leaders lodged complaints on the same day, on 31 October 2014, with the New York State Board of Elections, officials with the state campaign finance regulatory authority investigated allegations that Mayor de Blasio broke state campaign finance laws when he and a team of his political loyalists launched a campaign to flip control of the New York State Senate into the hands of the Democratic Party.
Subpoenas were issued ; documents were produced and reviewed, including bank statements of Democratic Party committees for Putnam and Ulster Counties and records from five campaign consulting firms ; and, more than one year after the complaints were filed, state investigators wrote a memorandum, dated 31 December 2015, to Risa Sugarman, the chief enforcement counsel for the Board of Elections with their findings.
According to the memorandum, investigators determined that a team of political operatives, including Mayor de Blasio ; Emma Wolfe, the mayor’s director of intergovernmental affairs ; and Ross Offinger, treasurer of the mayor’s nonprofit lobbying arm, the Campaign for One New York, were involved in a coördinated effort with Democratic Party candidates for the State Senate about “who would work on the campaigns, who would pay for each aspect of the campaigns, and which vendors/political consultants would be hired to do the work” using monies raised by Mayor de Blasio’s team for the 2014 campaign to win back control over the New York State Senate.
Amongst the campaign consulting firms was the unregistered lobbying firm, BerlinRosen, which has close ties to both Mayor de Blasio and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York).
The coördination took place in conjunction with the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the Putnam County Democratic Committee, and the Ulster County Democratic Committee, and, importantly, that this coördination was “run from City Hall.”
The memorandum concluded that the violations examined by state campaign finance investigators needed to be “referred for further investigation and prosecution as appropriate.”
After Ms. Sugarman reviewed the investigators’ memorandum, she informed the commissioners of the Board of Elections about the investigators’ findings by letter, dated 4 January 2016, attaching the memorandum, adding that, “The violations discovered by this investigation can only be described as willful and flagrant,” before finally recommending that “reasonable cause” existed for the office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan), to investigate and prosecute “any indictable offense or offenses committed” as a consequence of the 2014 State Senate campaign effort.
Two days after The New York Daily News published the documents by the Board of Elections, igniting new questions about the ethical conduct of Mayor de Blasio and key officials in his administration and campaign operations, a lawyer from the firm of Kantor Davidoff, reportedly representing many of the individuals named in the Board of Elections documents, responded to the allegations in a letter of its own, dated 24 April 2016, by objecting to the leaking of investigatory documents, which should have normally been kept privileged and confidential by regulatory and prosecutorial agencies, and by rejecting the legal analysis that supported the criminal referral to District Attorney Vance’s office.
It’s notable that Kantor Davidoff’s response letter only addressed findings by state campaign finance investigators that the pass-through nature of large campaign contributions using state and county party committee accounts constituted violations of the law. Left unaddressed were allegations that Mayor de Blasio’s team had required the official campaign committees of the Democratic Party candidates for the State Senate to use specific political consulting firms for this coördinated campaign.
As noted in a report published by Progress Queens, it was determined in a prosecution case against former Brooklyn Democratic Party committee chair Clarence Norman that it was a crime for a candidate to receive institutional party support on the condition that the candidate hire a preferential campaign vendor backed by the institutional party, because that meant that the institutional party support could be had — for a price.