Council speaker race candidates continue to flout 2013 guidance regarding dedicated campaign committees

By LOUIS FLORES

A review conducted by Progress Queens of campaign committees registered with the State campaign finance regulatory authority has revealed that two New York City Council speaker candidates have recently formed new campaign committees. The two Council speaker candidates have either denied that they have spent any money on the Council speaker race or that the new campaign committees are dedicated for the purpose of the Council speaker race, according to information received by Progress Queens.

When asked by Progress Queens about which of his two, newly-formed campaign committees, Ydanis For All and Ydanis Rodriquez, was dedicated to the Council speaker race, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Inwood) replied that he had not made any expenditures in the Council speaker race. Contrary to Councilmember Rodriguez's assertion, a report published last July by The Gotham Gazette noted that Councilmember Rodriguez was amongst a group of Council speaker candidates, who had stepped up "efforts to curry favor with their colleagues and other elected officials through strategic campaign donations." The report revealed that Council speaker candidates were donating monies out of their committees to reëlect to the campaign committees of other Councilmembers.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Canarsie) recently formed a new campaign committee, Jumaane 4 NY, according to online records of the New York State Board of Elections. Councilmember Williams' communications director, Kevin Fagan, issued the following statement to Progress Queens in response to questions seeking clarification about the purpose of the new committee : "The Council Member recently opened a local campaign committee, Jummane4NY -- as you noted, the Council Member is running to be the next Speaker of the City Council, but this local campaign committee is neither for the Speakership race nor any other specified office. The creation of this committee is fully in accordance with campaign finance guidelines."

Last week, a report published by The New York Post speculated that the purpose of Councilmember Williams' new campaign committee was to primary Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) in next year's gubernatorial race.

The remaining six (6) Council speaker candidates did not show any change in campaign committees since Progress Queens last reviewed online State municipal campaign finance regulatory records :  Councilmembers Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (D-Crown Heights) ; Corey Johnson (D-Chesea) ; Mark D. Levine (D-West Harlem) ; Donovan Richards, Jr. (D-The Rockaways) ; Ritchie J. Torres (D-Fordham) ; and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

The active field of Council speaker candidates operating without a dedicated campaign committee for the Council speaker race flies in contravention to guidance previously given by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, the Municipal campaign finance regulatory authority. In 2013, the Campaign Finance Board reportedly provided advice to Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) that using a committee to reëlect for the speakership race was prohibited, forcing her to form a separate, dedicated campaign committee for the Council speaker race that year then.

In the current year's speaker race, press reports have indicated that the Council speaker race has been being waged "behind the scenes" for months, according to a report published by The New York Times, with a report broadcast by the cable news network NY1 noting that many of the Council speaker candidates had already met with U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), the reported Kingmaker in the Council speaker race, before the November general election. One of the Council speaker candidates, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), has expressed his support to see U.S. Rep. Crowley be elected to speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a report published by City & State, indicating that U.S. Rep. Crowley may benefit, personally and politically, after the Council speaker race has concluded. Council speaker candidates have been undertaking other activities, including preparing for an attending debates, including one that took place before the November general election.

Because the municipal campaign committees also come under the jurisdiction of the State campaign finance regulatory authority, Progress Queens made a request for information to the enforcement unit of the New York State Board of Elections, which was not immediately answered. The enforcement unit of the State campaign finance regulatory authority has the power and discretion to refer irregularities for investigation by law enforcement agencies.

In recent years, whenever the democratic functions of Government bodies have been undercut by the theft of honest services or by honest services fraud, actual or alleged, Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, have launched criminal investigations. After former New York City Councilmember Daniel Halloran (D-Queens) appealed his conviction for two schemes of corruption, for which he was prosecuted by Federal prosecutors, a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stated that there was a public interest "in preventing ‘quid pro quo corruption’ or the appearance thereof," according to a legal summary of the ruling published by the law firm, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

According to information obtained by Progress Queens, all of the committees under the jurisdiction of the Campaign Finance Board will undergo an audit. In 2013, after Councilmember Mark-Viverito was shown to have violated ethics regulations, she agreed to pay fines to settle an investigation into her acceptance of gifts from lobbyists to her campaign committee, according to a report published by The New York Times.

This year, as part of a comprehensive strategy for Government reform, the publisher of Progress Queens has acted as a campaign consultant. In 2017, the publisher of Progress Queens represented a City Council candidate in Manhattan, and he sought consulting work from other City Councilmembers, including from one Council speaker candidate.

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