By LOUIS FLORES
New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) continues to make fundraising appeals for his 2017 campaign committee to reëlect, even after he has reportedly dropped out of the matching funds program of the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
In an e-mail distributed on Thursday, Councilmember Van Bramer's campaign committee sought campaign contributions, in part, because, "I need your help in order to face the very real and immensely important fights that are ahead. I've spent this year organizing the resistance against the devisive retoric from the White House."
The e-mail apparently referred to a protest march that Councilmember Van Bramer spearheaded last November to denounce the politics of then-President elect Donald Trump as an affront to "Queens values," a vague political construct that appeared to overlook the prominent conservative sensibility that exists amongst voters in the borough of Queens.
Councilmember Van Bramer's campaign fundraising drive continues in the face of a news report that his campaign committee has reportedly exceeded a fundraising cap and has dropped out of the Municipal matching funds program, according to an article published by The Gotham Gazette. Councilmemmber Van Bramer is a member of the City Council's Progressive Caucus.
For this report, Councilmember Van Bramer's office did not answer a request to explain why the incumbent candidate dropped out of matching funds program.
The Municipal campaign finance regulatory authority and the matching funds program were created after passage of a voter referendum in the wake of several corruption scandals during the administration of then Mayor Ed Koch (D-New York City). Leaders of, and political operatives working for, several Democratic Party County Committees were the subject of investigations for reportedly engaging in corruption, including extorting bribes or making bribe payments in order to win Municipal contracts or approvals, according to events recounted in the 1988 muckracking book, City For Sale, co-written by the now late journalists Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett. Officials or associates of several Democratic Party County Committees reportedly paid gratuities or offered political support in exchange for seeking or arranging preferential treatment in the awarding of Government contracts or approvals or other conspiracies to personally enrich themselves or their associates. Ultimately, Stanley Friedman, the former chair of the Bronx Democratic County Committee ; Meade Esposito, the former chair of the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee ; U.S. Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-The Bronx) ; and Justice Francis Smith, the administrative judge at the time of the New York State Supreme Court for Queens County, were each found guilty of corruption-related crimes. Donald Manes, the former chair of the Queens Democratic County Committee, reportedly committed suicide in order to avoid facing charges stemming from a related corruption investigation. Other officials were also prosecuted or were the subject of investigations. Municipal campaign finance regulations were enacted in order to prevent the outsized role of money in politics from leading to more corruption scandals.
Councilmember Van Bramer is not alone in opting out of the matching funds program, which has sought to decrease the role of money in politics. Councilmembers Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea), Mark Levine (D-Morningside Heights), Andy King (D-Co-Op City), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill), David Greenfield (D-Borough Park), and Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush) have each reportedly also dropped out of the matching funds program, according to the report published by The Gotham Gazette. Many of these incumbents have been identified as candidates seeking the speakership of the next session of the New York City Council.
In recent years, then New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) had supported weakening Municipal campaign finance regulations to allow outside groups to coördinate some electioneering work with campaign committees, according to a 2012 report published by The New York Times. A real estate industry-linked Super PAC was launched and was largely responsible for clearing the way for many industry-preferred candidates to win election to the Municipal legislature, including Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham). Under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), the City Council has further considered weakening Municipal campaign finance regulations by allowing campaign committees to alter information collected from campaign donors, according a subsequent report published by The New York Times. Between the end of 2016 and the start of 2017, eighteen campaign committees faced fines or penalties for violations of Municipal campaign finance regulations, according to determinations made by the Campaign Finance Board.
The moves to embrace a greater role for money in politics also comes at a time when Federal prosecutors have been examining the conduct of local elected officials to determine whether preferential treatment has been being given to campaign donors or political operatives. The office of Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim recently announced the conclusion of a reported wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation into the campaign finance activities of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) with no charges filed. Other press reports have raised questions about how a politically-connected law firm in Queens has reportedly benefited from its association with the Queens Democratic County Committee. According to information obtained by Progress Queens, there is law enforcement interest in the activities of the Queens Democratic County Committee. As reported by Progress Queens, Federal prosecutors in New York City have brought public corruption charges against 54 individuals since 2010.