By LOUIS FLORES
The committee to reëlect Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) raised over $522,000 in this year's Municipal election cycle, according to data recently released by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The data was reviewed by Progress Queens to draw attention to the role of money in New York City politics to support an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to complete the coding of a transparency reporting app, C'est Vrai.
The amount of money raised by Councilmember Van Bramer was the highest amongst the eight (8) New York City Councilmembers, who are running to become the next Council speaker. Despite the size of Councilmember Van Bramer's campaign war chest, his committee to reëlect only reported that $2,000 of the total donations raised by his committee were attributable to an intermediary, or bundler, who collects donations on behalf of a campaign committee. In respect of Councilmember Van Bramer's committee to reëlect, known as Van Bramer 2017, the sole intermediary responsible for bundling the $2,000 was Jay Kriegel, a lobbyist who is employed by The Related Companies, a large real estate development firm. The $2,000 in bundled donations represents less than 1 per cent. of Councilmember Van Bramer's total money raised for this year's Municipal election cycle. According to information obtained online by Progress Queens, Karina de la Cruz served as Treasurer of Van Bramer 2017.
Analysis of Van Bramer 2017 donations showed clusters of donations on multiple dates ; i.e., on 24 Nov 2014, many from real estate industry ; on 02 Dec 2015, many from taxi industry. #CouncilSpeaker #SpeakerRace #GetMoneyOut #CestVrai pic.twitter.com/E9YqsuKOZ0— C'est Vrai (@CestVraiApp) December 9, 2017
Intermediaries must be declared to the Campaign Finance Board whenever a fundraising event is paid for and organised by an individual or individuals other than a candidate's campaign committee, according to the Campaign Finance Board's Campaign Finance Handbook. If more than one individual not affiliated with a campaign committee pays for and organises a fundraising event, one individual must be designated as an intermediary, according to the Campaign Finance Handbook.
According to further analysis of Councilmember Van Bramer's contributions for this Municipal election cycle, many contributions were reported in clusters by his committee to reëlect. For example, 88 donations were reported as being received on 09 June 2015, 80 donations on 11 July 2016, and 65 donations on 11 January 2016. Other days when donations were clustered included 24 November 2014, when donations were received by Van Bramer 2017 from individuals employed by the real estate development firms Millennium Partners, Tishman Speyer, and The Brodsky Organization. On 02 December 2015, donations were received by Van Bramer 2017 from individuals employed by taxi industry firms Queens Medallion and United Man Group Inc., according to Campaign Finance Board data.
For this report, Councilmember Van Bramer's communications director, Sean Butler, did not answer on the record questions submitted in advance by Progress Queens. A request for an interview was also not answered about the top 40 days when donations were clustered. If Councilmember Van Bramer's committee to reëlect did not use more intermediaries to raise the $520,000 that was reported to have been directly raised by committee officials, then the coördination that took place was done by the committee. As noted by the activism group Queens Anti-Gentrification Project on a post on the group's blog, more than $100,000 of the money raised by Councilmember Van Bramer during the recent Municipal election cycle came from the real estate industry. Councilmember Van Bramer has not publicly opposed large real estate industry-backed projects -- such as the proposed rezoning of Long Island City, the proposed trolly service that would run through the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, known as the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, and the proposed development of Sunnyside Yards -- that Queens activists say will spread gentrification into the City's second-most populous borough. Activists have charged that Councilmember Van Bramer was "firmly aligned with a real estate industry that shows no regard for the working class." In an editorial published by the nonprofit news Web site City Limits, a member of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project also questioned the direction of Queens under Councilmember Van Bramer's leadership.
More campaign finance questions
Councilmember Van Bramer is one of candidates seeking to become the next Council speaker. Before the November general election, the Council speaker candidates were reported to be engaged in making campaign contributions to their peers, hiring lobbying firms, lobbying their peers, preparing for and participating in their first Council speaker candidate debate, and meeting with party officials, including U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), the latter, who is reported to be able to exert almost sole discretion to select the next Council speaker. Prior to the November general election, all of the Council speaker candidates did not appear to have a dedicated campaign committee for their respective speakership races, according to a review conducted by Progress Queens of campaign committees registered with the State campaign finance regulatory authority. Because the Municipal campaign finance regulatory authority issued guidelines four years ago, directing then Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) that it was prohibited for a Council speaker candidate to use a committee to reëlect to raise and spend money on the speakership race and because it appeared that the current crop of Council speaker candidates had not formed a separate campaign committee for their respective speakership races, as had Councilmember Mark-Viverito, the publisher of Progress Queens filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, alleging campaign finance improprieties.
For this report, neither Councilmember Van Bramer nor Communications Director Butler disclosed whether Councilmember Van Bramer had formed a dedicated campaign committee for his speakership race or when Councilmember Van Bramer began his Council speaker campaign. A source familiar with the Campaign Finance Board's regulations directed Progress Queens to the list of declared campaign committees when asked whether Councilmember Van Bramer had formed a dedicated campaign committee for the Council speakership. A review of the list showed that Councilmember had not appeared to have formed a dedicated campaign committee for his speakership race that was registered with the Municipal campaign finance regulatory authority. A separate review of State campaign committees registered under Councilmember Van Bramer's last name showed no change from a prior list of registered campaign committees generated online by Progress Queens on or about the time the complaint was filed with the Federal prosecutors' office.
For this report, a representative of the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district, which has jurisdiction over Queens, declined to answer advanced questions submitted to that Federal prosecutors' office.