May 3, 2016; Crain’s New York Business
Elected officials’ practice of raising money for their pet charities from special interests with business before them while skirting campaign finance regulations that might restrict political contributions continues to be a bone of contention in New York, as it is in other big cities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told Crain’s New York, a business publication, that he complied with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board directive to not solicit donations to his now-closed nonprofit from people or organizations with “matters pending or about to be pending” before his office. He told Crain’s that his lawyers were “involved in every step of the process to make sure the guidance was consistently followed.”
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that federal prosecutors are looking at the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit de Blasio established to advance his agenda and support his favorite charities. It raised more than $4 million over two years, much of it from real estate developers and unions, a pattern repeated in other cities with other mayors, such as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Fund for Los Angeles, which took in over $14 million last year.
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The N.Y. Conflicts of Interest Board wrote a letter to the fund’s lawyer in January, 2014 that said the mayor could solicit donations to the nonprofit as long as the donors did not have pressing matters before the executive branch of city government. Although many donors on the list had business before the city around the time of their donations, de Blasio’s office said the directive had not been violated because the people asking for money were not city employees.
“The COIB letter is clear—it permits solicitations of people who do business with the city. It only bars the solicitation by the mayor [or other city officials and employees] of someone ‘with a matter pending or about to be pending’ before the city. Nothing in it or the conflicts-of-interest laws restrict the Campaign for One New York or its supporters from fundraising—only city officials and employees were restricted,” the mayor’s counsel said.
The mayor defended the Fund’s fundraising activities by pointing out that it frequently sought Conflicts of Interest Board guidance upfront. He also told Crain’s that the campaign voluntarily disclosed its donors, even though it was not legally required to disclose donations or spending.—Larry Kaplan