Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Growing, Corruptive Role of Money and Lobbyists In NYC Politics Contravenes Progressive Values

The lobbyists, big businesses, and special interests that game the broken political system do not want reforms of campaign finance law.

The 2013 municipal elections in New York City were the first time that Citizens United brought the corruptive use of Super PAC money into local elections here, and the top lobbying firms, which double as campaign consultants, used the scourge of independent expenditures as a backdoor to funnel millions of dollars through Super PAC's. This corruptive use of money has never been fully investigated, excepting for a series of articles in Crain's about the shady double-dipping by one lobbying firm, The Advance Group. (Scott Levenson NY-CLASS ABQ WFP Timeline to Benefit Bill de Blasio ?) The serious questions into The Advance group's shady dealings will go uninvestigated, because the city's Campaign Finance Board now answers to the mayor and the Council speaker, who have close ties to The Advance Group. The shady embrace of Super PAC's in New York City politics is joined in murky darkness by the shameless role of lobbyists in determining leadership posts in the new de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration.

NYC Council Speaker Race Campaign Finance Controversies (2013)

The corruptive role of money and lobbyists continues to erode away at transparency and democracy in New York City municipal politics, or whatever is left of it.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito raised more than $100,000 after her election, and spent nearly $80,000 on consultants and donations to other political groups in her bid to become Speaker. (Mark-Viverito spent big on speaker race * Crain’s) One of the city’s biggest lobbyists, Vito Pitta, quietly assisted Ms. Mark-Viverito in her campaign for City Council speaker -- putting him in a prime position with his clients now that she has been selected. (Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito Got Help From Top Lobbying Firm * The New York Daily News)

Prior to the backroom deals that selected Melisa Mark-Viverito as the new Council speaker, she had accepted unpaid assistance from The Advance Group, a prominent lobbying firm headed by Scott Levenson, the news Web site Politicker reported. (The Advance Group Helping Melissa Mark-Viverito in Speaker’s Race * Politicker) After controversy erupted over Ms. Mark-Viverito's receipt of unpaid assistance from The Advance Group (City Council Speaker candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito may have violated city ethics rules * The New York Daily News), Ms. Mark-Viverito deceptively announced that she fired the The Advance Group. (Melissa Mark-Viverito Drops Advance Group for Speaker Bid * Politicker) However, Jonathan Yedin, an operative with The Advance Group, has been working in Brooklyn Democratic Party politics for more than a decade and belongs to Frank Seddio’s political club. Mr. Yedin was a crucial player in brokering the backroom deal with Mr. Seddio to give Ms. Mark-Viverito the win in her bid to become the next Council speaker, sources said. (Inside Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Road to Victory * Politicker) But The Advance Group was never paid for their work, according to New York State Board of Elections campaign finance disclosure records, raising the specter anew that Ms. Mark-Viverito was in violation of prohibitions on publicly-elected officials from accepting a “valuable gift” from a firm that intends to do business with the city, according to an analysis by The New York Daily News of the City Charter regulations, which include prohibitions on lobbyists from giving valuable gifts to publicly-elected officials.

"Under city election rules, Ms. Mark-Viverito was not allowed to spend money from her 2013 campaign account for the speaker race. She was also not allowed to spend money from a 'transition committee' meant to pay only for inauguration activities. And she was likewise not allowed to yet set up a new 2017 campaign committee with the city Campaign Finance Board. ¶ Instead, on Nov. 5, she set up a 2017 campaign committee for an as-to-be-determined city office, according to the state Board of Elections, and then spent on the speaker race," reported Crain's.

When will good government groups and the media finally admit that the impotent New York City Campaign Finance Board turns it head away from the way campaign consultants and lobbyists have made Swiss cheese of campaign finance regulations ?

To add insult to injury, several lobbyists, who helped Ms. Mark-Viverito in her successful bid to become Council Speaker, are now aiding her in deciding committee assignments and who the Council should hire. (Lobbyists aid Mark-Viverito transition * Crain's)

Alison Hirsh, the political director of the building service workers union 32BJ, Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, and Jon Del Giorno, a founding member of the lobbying firm Pitta Bishop Del Giorno and Giblin, are exerting behind-the-scenes influence in backroom meetings to determine the makeup of the Council leadership positions that will report to Speaker Mark-Viverito. Left unmentioned was Scott Levenson, whose lobbying firm, The Advance Group, kept working behind-the-scenes for Ms. Mark-Viverito, in spite of some press reports that his firm had been fired. A controversial political operative, Mr. Levenson gave contradictory statements to the press last year about his campaign consulting work to defeat LGBT political candidates.

Mayor Bill de Blasio established the political culture of allowing lobbyists to have a say in how the municipal government would work since his election. Mayor de Blasio named "Carl Weisbrod, a registered lobbyist, as co-chair of the mayor's transition committee," Crain's reported.

The role of lobbyists, big business, and special interests will likely continue unchecked by good government groups, co-opted reformers, and the lazy media when Mayor de Blasio and several of his top administration officials are expected to attend the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala. (Mayor de Blasio to party with real estate * Crain's)

"In addition to the mayor, Police Commissioner William Bratton is expected to attend, along with other top de Blasio appointees, including Tony Shorris, de Blasio's first deputy mayor; Emma Wolf, the director of intergovernmental affairs; and Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development. Kyle Kimball, president of the Economic Development Corp., who Mr. de Blasio recently renamed to that position, is also likely to be at the event, sources said. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer will likely attend as well," Crain's reported.

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