Thursday, March 13, 2014

Campaign Finance Board Penalizes NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC For Campaign Violations

Million-Dollar Anti-Quinn Super PAC Fined Pennies On The Dollar

Ushered in by the corruptive Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a Super PAC that helped end former Council Speaker Christine Quinn's mayoral ambitions was fined $7,050 by the Campaign Finance Board Thursday morning for failing to report $70,000 in expenditures, The New York Daily News reported.

Activists had spent years organizing against former Speaker Quinn for allowing the NYPD to institute a protest parade permit, for over-turning term limits, and for doing nothing to save St. Vincent's Hospital, amongst other betrayals. But then last year, the Super PAC, NYC Is Not For Sale, supplanted the long-term reform activists by launching a million-dollar TV commercial campaign against Speaker Quinn when she was ahead in the polls, rendering the long-term activists to nothing more but useful idiots to the Super PAC. With its very visible negative attack ads on TV, NYC Is Not For Sale took public credit for defeating Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign, decidedly handing victory in the mayoral race to former Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. In exchange for having received the benefit and support from the Super PAC, the new mayor helped raise money for at least one of coalition members that organized the Super PAC, and the mayor has repeatedly promised to honor the legislative request of the wealthy donors behind the Super PAC.

The fine levied by the Campaign Finance Board represented a financial penalty of about 10 cents on the dollar for the infraction amounts that the Super PAC failed to declare.

That NYC Is Not For Sale flouted city campaign finance regulations revealed how some of the long-term reform activists, who were initially excited for the Super PAC's help to defeat former Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign, were not fully aware that NYC Is Not For Sale represented trouble.

The Super PAC, NYC Is Not For Sale, supplanted the long-term reform activists by launching a million-dollar TV commercial campaign against Speaker Quinn when she was ahead in the polls, rendering the long-term activists to nothing more but useful idiots to the Super PAC.

Following the Campaign Finance Board's announcement of the fine, reform activists were troubled by the relatively small penalty against the Super PAC. The whole purpose of the activism to defeat former Speaker Quinn was to reform government processes to end corruption and the appearance of corruption. Since the board members of the Campaign Finance Board answer to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the present Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, it is not known how independent the Campaign Finance Board can be in reviewing violations of groups that have relationships with the administration. Both the mayor and the Council speaker have close ties to the coalition of left-leaning unions, Democratic donors, and animal rights activists that formed NYC Is Not For Sale. NYC Is Not For Sale was advised, in turn, by the political lobbying firm, The Advance Group, which is headed by Scott Levenson. The Advance Group and Mr. Levenson have close ties to the mayor and to the Council speaker. If city campaign finance regulators only assessed this politically-connected Democratic Super PAC with a nominal financial penalty, then reform activists may not reasonably expect just outcomes in respect of complaints about other controversial electioneering work during last year's municipal elections. For example, many of the campaigns and/or Super PAC's advised or administered by The Advance Group have triggered critical press reports questioning possible financial or ethical improprieties.

Notwithstanding, the Campaign Finance Board denied John Liu any public matching dollars in last year's mayoral race over questions of the integrity of his fundraising. Yet, the Campaign Finance Board allowed Councilmember Mark-Viverito to keep all of her public matching dollars, even though she exceeded the spending cap by opening a second campaign finance account with the state Board of Elections in Albany during the same election cycle to fund her speakership race. Separately, the Progressive Caucus of the City Council employed their own lobbyist, Alison Hirsch, in the Council speaker race. However, the Campaign Finance Board has not indicated whether it is comfortable with allowing undeclared or possibly unpaid electioneering work made at the direction of elected officials that take place during an election cycle that subjected those same election officials to spending caps and other public matching dollars restrictions ?

The regulations for campaign finance do not guarantee that every politician is owed a right to keep raising money for post-election leadership races, like the campaign for Council speaker, during the same election cycle where there were spending caps and other matching public dollar restrictions. Every time that politicians raise money, they create opportunities for the undue influence of wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists to have even great influence over our public officials, always at the expense of the mere voter. By allowing Councilmember Mark-Viverito to exceed the spending cap, the Campaign Finance Board has now opened a backdoor to allow any public official to open up campaign accounts with the state Board of Elections that can be used for electioneering purposes that would effectively allow those public officials to game the public matching dollar system through the Campaign Finance Board and still raise more money through a state Board of Elections account. This is a dangerous precedent that the Campaign Finance Board has set. Compounding the concerns of reform activists, the board members of the Campaign Finance Board are now partly answerable to the Councilmember Mark-Viverito, because she has since become the Council speaker as a direct result of questionable electioneering work that falls under the jurisdiction of the Campaign Finance Board.

Judging by the tiny fraction of a fine levied on NYC Is Not For Sale, the Campaign Finance Board is not sufficiently independent to review complaints of campaign finance violations of parties, such as The Advance Group, Mr. Levenson, the animal rights group NY-CLASS, and others, who have as close, if not closer, ties to each of the mayor and the Council speaker than the coalition of left-leaning unions and Democratic donors that formed NYC Is Not For Sale. Indeed, as the Campaign Finance Board continues with its post-election audit, one of the very campaign accounts it must review belongs to the Council speaker, herself.

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