By LOUIS FLORES
If the orders of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) to shut down the Campaign for One New York were intended to cut off investigations into whether he violated the City Charter and whether the nonprofit lobbying group skirted campaign finance laws, he may be in for a shock.
When media coverage of the last major municipal official, Councilmember Melissa-Mark-Viverito (D-SpanishHarlem), reported that she was the target of criticism for her use of an unpaid lobbying firm as a consultant on her 2013 speakership campaign, Councilmember Mark-Viverito reportedly dumped the lobbying firm, The Advance Group. But the act of Councilmember Mark-Viverito having ditched The Advance Group did not stop the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board from imposing her campaign committee a fine of $7,000 and a separate order to pay The Advance Group $3,796.44 for unpaid work. On top of a fine of $4,000 that the Conflicts of Interest Board fined on The Advance Group, the disposition of the Conflicts of Interest Board’s investigation served to blemish the unpaid arrangement between Councilmember Mark-Viverito’s campaign committee and The Advance Group. The disposition of the probes also affirmed that the City Charter forbade elected officials from receiving valuable gifts from businesses seeking to do business before the City of New York.
In addition to the issue of firewalls, the provision of valuable gifts to an elected official by firms seeking to do business before the city may also be material to the investigation by either or both of the Conflicts of Interest Board and the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Because Mayor de Blasio reportedly received material political benefit from having the Campaign for One New York lobby in support of his political agenda, Mayor de Blasio benefited from that arrangement, particularly and especially from the successful outcomes of that lobbying. Chief amongst the examples of the Campaign for One New York’s lobbying successes was enactment of an expansion of prekindergarten classrooms.
Separate from the Conflicts of Interest Board’s fortitude in continuing its probe of Councilmember Mark-Viverito, until it issued the dispositions and the fines, is the diligence with which Common Cause/NY is interested in the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board in continuing their respective probes until each municipal regulatory agency issues determinations to answer the complaint filed by the government watchdog group.
In response to a request made by Progress Queens, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY said that her group was still interested in each of the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board to conduct investigations to determine if there were any violations of the City Charter and for each agency to issue forward-looking determinations as to the legality of any similarly-situated nonprofit groups advocating in the future on behalf of elected officials.
Despite the Editorial Board of The New York Post noting that Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Mark-Viverito were on track to having appointed a majority of the board members of the Campaign Finance Board by November, the Campaign Finance Board chair, Rose Gill Hearn, issued a warning last Thursday at a meeting, revealing that the Campaign Finance Board staff “was following normal procedures for complaints from the public,” adding that the only public statement the agency would be making would be the same one issued by its press office following news of the filing of the Common Cause/NY complaint :
“The City’s campaign finance system was created to ensure that New York City’s elected leaders are responsible first and foremost to the voters, not to wealthy special interests. Citizens United and its aftermath have created some novel challenges, but the Board will always seek to protect this core principle to the full extent the law allows.”
The Conflicts of Interest Board has a policy of not commenting about its investigations.
Separate from any possible or likely investigations by the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, each of the de Blasio administration, the unregistered lobbying firms advising the Campaign for One New York, and the nonprofit groups' donors may have other worries, too. Three days before Common Cause/NY lodged its complaint with the two municipal regulatory agencies, Progress Queens reported that the activities of the Campaign for One New York had attracted law enforcement interest. The interest of other law enforcement agencies may likewise not cease just because Mayor de Blasio ordered the winding down of the Campaign for One New York.