Sunday, May 11, 2014

Did New York State Election Officials Create a Dual Mandate Loophole to Campaign Finance Caps ? [UPDATED]


SPECIAL NEWS UPDATE: SUN, 11 MAY 2014, 09:30 PM

Now that federal prosecutors have empaneled a grand jury to investigate political corruption, all of a sudden Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing changes to the state campaign finance system -- but only after he amassed a $30 million war chest for this year's reelection race.

But the governor wants the state to adopt the New York City campaign finance model, even though this model easily allows for unscrupulous candidates and Super PAC's to engage in campaign finance corruption.

In spectacular articles in The New York Daily News, it was reported the FBI is investigating a Super PAC for possibly violating the law. These articles portrayed former Council Speaker Christine Quinn as the victim, even though Speaker Quinn weakened campaign finance laws in the New York City model.

Christine Quinn's replacement as Council speaker, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, collected her public matching dollars from the New York City model, then she opened another campaign finance account to go around restrictions of the New York City model.

The only answer real campaign finance reform advocates should support is a ban on all private campaign donations, and, in its place, 100% public financing of campaigns with heightened oversight. Any reasonable person can see how the New York City campaign finance model can be gamed, but maybe Gov. Cuomo can't see straight ?


SPECIAL NEWS UPDATE: FRI, 25 APR 2014, 09:50 AM

Scott Levenson NY-CLASS Christine Quinn Bill de Blasio FBI Investigation into Campaign Corruption photo 2014-04-25TheNewYorkDailyNewsFBIReport_zps189d95ac.png

In the past few weeks, FBI agents have been asking questions about the campaign by the animal rights group NY-CLASS to strong arm former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (center) to support a ban on the iconic horse-drawn carriages, two sources familiar with the matter told The New York Daily News. The horse lobbyists in question include Scott Levenson, and they are linked to Mayor Bill de Blasio (inset). (FBI investigating claim that Christine Quinn was threatened by Scott Levenson for refusing to support carriage horse ban during the mayoral race * The New York Daily News)


PUBLISHED : THURS, 27 MAR 2014, 05:30 PM
UPDATED : SUN, 11 MAY 2014, 01:30 PM

By Approving Double Electioneering Accounts For Melissa Mark-Viverito, Did Election Officials Create a Dual Mandate Loophole to Campaign Finance Caps ?

Last year, New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito raised $149,151 in private donations for her primary reëlection race. Because she remained under the $168,000 cap on private donations set by city campaign finance regulations, the New York City Campaign Finance Board granted Councilmember Mark-Viverito's campaign $158,502 in public matching dollars, according to the Campaign Finance Board's formula. City campaign finance rules require that all donations and in-kind contributions to political campaigns be disclosed to the Campaign Finance Board. But last year was the first time when the corrupt Citizens United Supreme Court ruling opened the floodgates of outside independent expenditure Super PAC money in the New York City municipal elections, and Councilmember Mark-Viverito received the benefit of about $26,868 in outside Super PAC spending in a super-heated primary election campaign ; she won her primary bid with barely 36% of the vote. If any of that extra money, which Councilmember Mark-Viverito desperately needed to defeat her five other challengers, was coordinated with her campaign, then she might have exceeded her cap on fundraising.

Since Councilmember Mark-Viverito's district is overwhelmingly Democratic, she faced no serious challenge from the Republican or Liberal party candidates after she won the Democratic primary. Having succeeded at being reëlected, she initiated a semi-private campaign to lobby her fellow councilmembers in order so that she could become selected as the next City Council speaker. Although the spirit of campaign finance laws is to regulate and decrease the corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in elections, Councilmember Mark-Viverito opened a second campaign account during the same election cycle in order to hire a team of lobbyists, this time for the Council speaker race. Instead of campaigning before voters, Councilmember Mark-Viverito sought to persuade her fellow councilmembers to vote for her in the Council speaker race. She also used the second campaign account to make patronage-like donations to other political supporters. Traditionally, the Council speaker race has been an "insider's game," where political party heads, operatives, lobbyists, and special interest operate in backroom meetings to barter for support, obscuring from public scrutiny the true extend of the negotiations that go into determining who becomes the Council speaker. True to tradition, much of the political machinations that went into winning the Council speakership for Councilmember Mark-Viverito were never transparent to the public.

Melissa Mark-Viverito photo melissa_mark-viverito_3_zpscc49b72b.jpg

Because of the caps on fundraising, Councilmember Mark-Viverito could not open that second electioneering campaign account through city election regulators at the Campaign Finance Board. Instead, she opened that second electioneering campaign account through state election regulators at the New York State Board of Elections. Subject to no cap in fundraising and ineligible for public matching dollars, that second electioneering campaign finance account allowed Councilmember Mark-Viverito to raise another $100,828 for the Council speaker race. In addition to the resources afforded to Ms. Mark-Viverito by this other $100,000 in contributions, she also benefitted from having employed the services of The Advance Group lobbying firm for free. Councilmember Mark-Viverito also benefited from the lobbying services provided by Alison Hirsch, a union political operative. Ms. Hirsch had been retained by the Progressive Caucus of council members. In an apparent example of how inconsistent the Campaign Finance Board is, it's unknown how the Progressive Caucus paid for Ms. Hirsch's lobbying services or who made campaign contributions to the Progressive Caucus in order for Ms. Hirsch to be paid for her lobbying services, or whether the Progressive Caucus was required to establish a legal political committee with state campaign finance regulators.

How could city and state campaign finance regulators condone two electioneering accounts during the same election cycle for one City Councilmember when all other councilmembers were subjected to a cap in fundraising and limited to one campaign finance account ?

The only way the Campaign Finance Board could approve Councilmember Mark-Viverito's use of two electioneering accounts during the same election cycle would be if the Campaign Finance Board were affirming that New York City would treat a City Councilmember and any leadership post held by that Councilmember as two separate, public offices, also known as a dual mandate. But does a City Council leadership post rise to the level of being treated as a "public office" separate and distinct from the underlying Councilmember's public office ?

On background, a supervisor at the New York State Board of Elections was contacted about two questions : (i) is it legal for an elected official to hold more than one simultaneous publicly-elected office, and (ii) how do state campaign finance regulators treat a second campaign finance account for a candidate, when the same candidate is subject to caps for a first campaign account. In a phone conversation, the supervisor admitted that these questions were too complex. "You could have three election lawyers in a room, and you would get three different answers," the supervisor said. The questions were separately submitted as a FOIL request to the state Board of Elections. Although the request sought the legal reasoning that would allow the Board of Elections to grant Councilmember Mark-Viverito the right to open a second, unregulated campaign finance account, the Board of Elections provided a response nine days after the request was made, describing the underlying request for information as not a "request for records." Instead, the Board of Elections passed the buck to their legal staff. "We have forwarded your request to the Counsel’s Office for their reply," the Board of Elections response read, in part. The Counsel's Office never provided a response. In a further discussion with a Board of Elections official, the official stated that there is no specific statue that prohibits a candidate for elected office to open a state election account for a Council leadership race. When the official was asked how could a campaign finance regulatory authority enable politicians to keep opening serial campaign accounts, when the very act of perpetual, unregulated fundraising violates the spirit of campaign finance regulations, the elections official clung to the reasoning of an absence of a prohibited statute. Even after it was pointed out that press reports questioned the way one political candidate, Councilmember Mark-Viverito, used a state Board of Elections account to finance post-Election Day campaign activities that are otherwise distinctly prohibited by the campaign finance regulatory authority nominally tasked to supervise municipal officeholders, the state elections official clung to the reasoning of an absence of a prohibited statute. The state elections official said that as far as the State Board of Elections knew, the state campaign account established by Councilmember Mark-Viverito was for a race in 2017 cycle. Consequently, the FOIL request was modified to request "copies (preferably in .PDF format, if available ; if not, in physical form) of : any agency application or designation document(s) ; any campaign committee formation documents ; list(s) of campaign committee officers ; written certifications, affidavits, or attestations ; committee registration and information document(s) ; committee authorization status document(s) ; and all other required due diligence documents filed or submitted in respect of any campaign committee(s) for the political candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito that correspond with the establishment of these two BOE campaign finance accounts : Filer ID's : C02515 and C02516." In response, the Board of Elections provided the following documents : Committee Registration : Treasurer and Bank Information, Committee Authorization Status, and Candidate's Authorization For A Committee To Make All Campaign Financial Disclosures. The forms submitted to the Board of Elections, which were signed and attested to by Councilmember Mark-Viverito and her campaign treasurer, Randolph Mark, indicated at first that the campaign committee being formed by Councilmember Mark-Viverito was going to be for an office "TBD" with a date of election "TBD." The date of election was later scratched out and replaced with "2017." Even though it has been widely reported that Councilmember used her state Board of Elections account to finance her Council speakership race, the state Board of Elections refuses to acknowledge that Councilmember Mark-Viverito's campaign committee deliberately deceived the state's campaign finance regulatory authority, and so far the city campaign finance regulatory authority refuses to admit that its public matching dollar system was gamed by Councilmember Mark-Viverito. This is even after many scandals, where politicians, their teams of lobbyists, and questionable donors continue to game the system. Today, the Editorial Board of The New York Daily News opined that if political campaigns can scam the public matching dollar system of the Campaign Finance Board, imagine what kind of campaign finance fraud can be perpetuated through the Board of Elections, if the state's regulator adopted a public matching dollar system ? The Editorial Board singled out how the Board of Elections is a compromised regulatory body : ". . . the see-no-evil Board of Elections . . . is party-controlled and paralyzed in the face of runaway lawbreaking." In an environment where city and state campaign finance regulators don’t even care to reign in the corruptive role of big money donors, special interests, or lobyists, a candidate can do whatever it takes, even violating the law outright in order to keep gaming the broken campaign finance system in New York. Against this backdrop of corruption, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he was dissolving a state commission that was investigating public corruption, thereby decreasing the amount of regulatory scrutiny on corrupt candidates, donors, and lobbyists at the very time when it’s most needed.

There's nothing to stop shady politicians from opening never-ending electioneering accounts or setting up secretive 501(c)(4) organizations to violate the spirit of campaign finance regulations.

A dual mandate is a controversial practise that allows politicians to hold more than one simultaneous elected office. The practise was banned in New Jersey by then Gov. Jon Corzine in 1992 over concerns that such politicians would create conflicts of interest in government. In examples that were noted by The New York Times, sometimes a municipal official would also concurrently hold a state-level office. But in Councilmember Mark-Viverito's case, she is holding what she considers two simultaneous offices : a seat on the City Council subject to a city campaign finance regulations and a leadership post on the same City Council, which is not subject to any city campaign finance regulations. It is said that until recently, Councilmember Mark-Viverito was also a District Leader of the state Democratic Party. She had only won the District Leader race last September, but she reportedly resigned her position, but the Web site for Manhattan Democratic Party still shows her holding the position. It’s not known why Councilmember Mark-Viverito resigned her position, if other elected officials hold a publicly-elected office at the same time when they serve as a District Leader. Although a District Leader is still publicly elected by members of that political party during that political party’s primary race, a District Leader is not a government office. For example, Keith Wright, the chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a District Leader, is also a state assemblyman. A search for Councilmember Mark-Viverito’s name with state campaign finance regulators showed no state campaign finance account for her District Leader race. It apparently was never disclosed how Councilmember financed her race for District Leader. Such races can involve considerable expense. In 2010, Lincoln Restler raised $66,066 for his District Leader race, and in 2012, Mr. Restler raised $92,513, demonstrating that a candidate for a mere political party leadership post could use a District Leader race to raise vast amounts of campaign donations, over which campaign finance regulators have limited some say, but impose no overall fundraising or spending cap.

Candidates can further game city and state campaign finance regulations by receiving the benefit of electioneering activities of independent expenditure groups or Super PAC’s. A New York City Democratic Party official, who spoke on background, said that a candidate for District Leader could raise large sums of campaign contributions, like Mr. Restler, according to complex formula that is neither entirely clear or fully transparent, and still receive external help from an independent expenditure group or Super PAC. Mind you, this is only for a political party leadership post that can be served concurrently with a publicly-elected office, which would be subject to its own campaign finance restrictions that could further be augmented by further electioneering activities of an independent expenditure group or Super PAC. What good is a spending cap in one election race, when a candidate has so many options to game the system ? In Councilmember Mark-Viverito’s case, she further opened a third campaign finance account, this time to pay for celebrations and other transition functions, even though she had been re-elected to her Councilmember district, and it remains unclear what transition functions an incumbent office holder needed to conduct outside of her official public duties ?

One major issue that good government groups and government reform activists face is to know why city and state campaign finance regulators would accord Councilmember Mark-Viverito the advantage of having so many electioneering accounts during the same election cycle, but deny that right to other candidates seeking a public office, but maybe it has something to do with how city and state campaign finance regulators can’t keep up with the many ways that candidates and their lobbyists make Swiss cheese out of regulations and restrictions ?

In New York, politicians generally shuttle between posts in municipal and state-level elections. Before she was a City Councilmember, Melinda Katz was a legislator with the New York State Assembly. She now serves as Queens Borough President, a municipal post. But she never held any of these posts in a concurrent fashion. Similarly, Thomas Duane ran for a seat in the New York State Senate while he was still a New York City Councilmember. After he won his State Senate race, he resigned from the New York City Council in order to take his state-level post. In New York, however, it appears that a distinction known as double-dipping is allowed, which is separate from a dual mandate. For example, the current New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, came out of retirement to run the city’s public schools in the de Blasio administration. Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated a deal which allowed Ms. Farina to continue to collect her retirement income at the same time she collected a full salary for serving as the schools chancellor. It's not transparent how the mayor has discretion to approve double-dipping, or when voters approved that councilmembers could treat the seeking of a City Council leadership post as a separate "election." Lobbyists would be interested in maximizing the number of times that candidates could mobilize an army of lobbyists, because lobbyists would be motivated by seeking additional opportunities for compensation, sometimes inflated by public matching dollars, or establishing a special insider access relationship with elected office holders. Contrary to some perceptions, some candidates for leadership posts, who are prolific fundraisers, would also welcome further opportunities to raise money, because the added contributions would give the candidates an unfair advantage over challengers, who are not adept at raising vast amounts of campaign donations. But why would voters deliberately want a situation like this, that would be so susceptible to the corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in determining the leaders of the City Council ?

The Campaign Finance Board was contacted by e-mail to determine its view of dual mandates. "The NYC Campaign Finance Board does not regulate which offices individuals can run for or hold, nor do we have the authority under the law to do so," Campaign Finance Board press secretary Matthew Sollars said in an e-mail. The more campaign finance reform advocates examine the role of city campaign finance regulators, the more it becomes apparent that the regulations have not kept up with the corruptive machinations of politicians or their lobbyists.

Besides the uniqueness of Councilmember Mark-Viverito's dual electioneering accounts, should advocates for campaign finance reform conclude that Councilmember Mark-Viverito's situation disadvantaged her challengers by disallowing her challengers the same opportunities to open serial campaign finance accounts, an unexplained advantage that Councilmember Mark-Viverito enjoyed, or should Councilmember Mark-Viverito's double electioneering accounts be seen as having set a dangerous precedent, whereby an elected official can keep opening electioneering accounts, even after having won a general election, to continue raising money from wealthy and special interest donors in order to arguably campaign for dual mandates or special interest causes ? In the effort to reign in the corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in politics, where can voters expect city and state campaign finance regulators to draw the line ?

The danger of dual mandates and perpetual campaign fundraising in New York City politics

How can a seasoned politician, like Councilmember Mark-Viverito, argue that she can remain eligible for $158,502 in public matching dollars for her primary City Council reëlection race, but still go outside the spirit of campaign contribution caps in order to raise over $100,000 for her run for City Council speaker ? What Councilmember Mark-Viverito seeks to do is to create a backdoor that will allow politicians to treat leadership posts as further elected offices that are separate from the underlying elected office that first permitted a politician the privilege, but not the right, of serving the public.

There's no written guarantee that politicians can keep raising money whenever they want. If they did, this would violate the spirit and nature of campaign finance regulations. What is more, it would treat any leadership race in the same legislative body as a separate "election," thereby leading to never-ending campaign fundraising cycles within government, regardless whether the campaigning would take place before or after what we traditionally view as the first Tuesday in November, or "Election Day." If Councilmember Mark-Viverito can treat the Council speakership as a "separate" election, why didn’t Councilmember Daniel Dromm declare any expenditures in his campaign to be named chair of the City Council Education Committee ? As early as a last December, the press was reporting that Councilmember Dromm was seeking that leadership post. Do city and state campaign finance regulations only require disclosure for some City Council leadership posts, but not all ? Are regulations meant to root out corruption only applied on a voluntary basis ?

In Councilmember Mark-Viverito's view, she has a right to raise money to "lobby" other elected officials for a leadership post the same way she has a right to "campaign" before voters for an elected office. This is an example of the addiction to the corruptive role of money and lobbyists by entitled elected officials, who become unprincipled after they become elected. As a self-identified "progressive," Councilmember Mark-Viverito should be moving away from the corruptive role of money and lobbyists in government, not moving towards it. Likewise, Mr. Restler, who some describe as a reformer, in spite of his dependence on prolific fundraising just to earn a political party leadership post. As it stands, good government groups already criticize other loopholes that allow officials seeking unelected municipal appointments to hire lobbyists cloaked in secrecy to game the appointment process. When officials seeking unelected government appointments, they can hire lobbyists, and how these lobbyists are paid, whether any fundraising is conducted, or other details about the relationship between prospective and elected officials and their corresponding lobbyists are not required to be disclosed to the public. In the example of Ms. Farina, the schools chancellor, it's unknown if she employed a team of lobbyists to negotiate any terms of her employment, including her double-dipping. If she had, there's no rule that would require Ms. Farina to disclose the details pertaining to her lobbyists, how they got paid, or if there was any fundraising to pay for her lobbyists. The same goes with lobbyists, if any, that may have had a role in negotiating the controversial appointment of Willliam Bratton as commissioner of the New York Police Department.

Added to all of the questions of suitability and compliance of twin electioneering accounts and dual mandates is the objectivity of the Campaign Finance Board to review these serious issues. Few advocates for campaign finance reform believe that the city's Campaign Finance Board can be trusted to police the corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in government. Already, three complaints about municipal campaign finance or electioneering violations have been filed at the federal level, because there are reasons to suspect that city campaign finance regulators have become politicized in their review of violation cases. Since the board members of the Campaign Finance Board are selected by a combination of either the mayor or the Council speaker, the board members are not truly independent from influence from City Hall or City Council. When violation cases roll up to either the mayor or to the Council speaker or to political operatives connected to either, as they do in the review of Councilmember Mark-Viverito’s twin electioneering accounts, how can the Campaign Finance Board truly act free of undue influence from either the mayor or the Council speaker ?

When the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC was found to have violated reporting requirements, the Campaign Finance Board essentially fined the Super PAC ten cents on the dollar for the infraction amounts. It's been asserted by others that the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC acted in concert or to directly benefit the mayoral campaign of Mr. de Blasio, and, in apparent gratitude, Mr. de Blasio consequently attended a key fundraiser for one of the large donors behind the Super PAC last year, an event that was closed to the press, further frustrating transparency. Given the Super PAC's close association with the mayor, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the Campaign Finance Board would levy a proverbial slap on the wrist when the target of an investigation is connected to the mayor. This contrasts greatly to when the Campaign Finance Board dealt a death blow to John Liu's mayoral campaign, one of Mr. de Blasio's challengers, by denying Mr. Liu any public matching dollars in last year's mayoral race. Furthermore, Mayor de Blasio seems to be allowed to set up 501(c)(4) advocacy groups that work in tandem with City Hall without question from the city or state campaign finance regulators.

  • RELATED : The Campaign Finance Board is the judge, jury and executioner of New York City's campaign finance law. As Albany eyes the CFB as a model for a statewide public financing system, City & State probes how the agency has wielded its enormous power over city elections. (Cracks in the Campaign Finance Board * City & State)
  • RELATED : Reform advocates and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo tout New York City's public campaign finance system as a model for the state to follow. But some political figures who insist they support the city Campaign Finance Board's mission are questioning its stewardship. (Campaign Finance Board leadership questioned * Newsday)

Going back to the unknown regulatory reasoning for Councilmember Mark-Viverito's need to establish a second electioneering account outside of the jurisdiction of city campaign finance regulators, how is the Campaign Finance Board going to rule in her case ? Presumably her first campaign finance account is undergoing a post-election audit. The only way the Campaign Finance Board knew that the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC had violated disclosure requirements was because investigators found inconsistencies after having cross-checked the Super PAC's reported disclosure filed with the Campaign Finance Board against the reported disclosure filed with the state's Board of Elections. But in Councilmamber Mark-Viverito's case, she couldn't file the Council speaker race disclosure report to city campaign finance regulators, because that report would have violated the spending cap in place for the primary and general election campaigns. The Campaign Finance Board does not have rules for allowing fundraising beyond the general election, nor does it guarantee a politician the ability to perpetually raise campaign donations after Election Day, unless we are witnessing the final politicalization of municipal elections by board members of the Campaign Finance Board, wherein the board members will allow the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration to decimate the spirit of campaign finance laws ? Only time will tell.

The questions surrounding Councilmember Mark-Viverito's speakership race add to the largely unexamined role that other Super PAC's, other lobbyists, and the flood of money had in last year's municipal elections, the first time the corruptive influence that the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United would be observed in local political races. None of all that is being examined. If the mayor and the City Council were truly progressive, they would be calling for a real investigation of allegations of campaign finance corruption. Unless, of course, it turns out that the elected officials occupying City Hall and City Council were progressives in name only ?


QUESTIONING THE NEW YORK CITY CAMPAIGN FINANCE BOARD

With John Liu's lawsuit against New York City over conflicted city campaign finance regulators, this makes three federal referrals of elections violations, forcing Mayor de Blasio to lawyer-up, recruit special inside election counsel.

After a wave of federal complaints that have been lodged over electioneering violations in last year's municipal elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio has hired a special legal advisor specializing in election law.

Since Mayor de Blasio and City Council Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and/or their political operatives, are entangled in some of these federal complaints, it should come as no surprise that Mayor de Blasio is now maneuvering to use his public office to defend himself against allegations of wrong-doing that took place during the electioneering of last year's municipal elections.

The three federal complaints lodged following last year's municipal elections :

  1. GOP consultant E. O'Brien Murray argued to the State Department that Patrick Gaspard, a former top White House aide with a deep history in Gotham politics, violated the federal Hatch Act by getting involved in Mayor de Blasio's campaign -- and City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's subsequent election as speaker -- while representing the U.S. in South Africa. (GOP Operative Files Hatch Act Complaint Against U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard * The New York Daily News)
  2. Louis Flores, a local political gadfly who ran a blog and wrote a book criticizing Christine Quinn, has filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s criminal division against Scott Levenson and The Advance Group consulting firm, which came under deep scrutiny during the mayoral campaign. (Federal Complaint Filed Against The Advance Group for Election Work * Politicker)
  3. Former New York City Comptroller and failed mayoral candidate John Liu has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its Campaign Finance Board. He says the board unfairly crippled his campaign by denying him matching funds in last year's race for mayor. (Ex-NYC mayor hopeful sues Campaign Finance Board * AP/The San Francisco Chronicle)


Emma Wolfe

  • RELATED : Roger Bennett Adler, a special prosecutor investigating the Working Families Party's corrupt relationship with Data & Field Services, a corporation formed by the left-leaning party to provide its candidates with get-out-the-vote staffing and expertise at possibly illegal discounts, has sought an interview with one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's highest-ranking aides, Emma Wolfe, people familiar with the matter said. Data & Field Services, a corporation formed by the left-leaning party to provide its candidates with get-out-the-vote staffing and expertise. Mr. de Blasio was elected in 2009 to become the city's public advocate thanks to, in part, the deeply discounted services of Data & Field. (Prosecutor in Working Families Corruption Case Seeks Interview of de Blasio Aide, Emma Wolfe * The Wall Street Journal)

The impact of the never-ending corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in politics : Has it come back to bite Mayor Bill de Blasio in the ass ?

To continue the mayor's plan to extend his influence across New York City, his administration has installed the lobbying and consulting firm of Berlin Rosen, political operatives who worked on the mayor's campaign, in the media relations role of the mayor's universal pre-kinder initiative. Berlin Rosen will be able to "control" the universal pre-kinder messaging for the mayor this way. Berlin Rosen also serves as consultants to a coalition of major police reform groups, Communities United for Police Reform. The latter allows Berlin Rosen to control the messaging coming from one of the mayor's most politically sensitive quarters : police reform activists. Tampering down police reform activists is all the more important to the mayor, even as the NYPD continues to become embroiled in more racially-profiled controversies. It was reported that another political insider and lobbying firm, Pitta Bishop, helped Council Speaker Mark-Viverito with City Council staffing, and now Pitta Bishop, like The Advance Group, are being paid to lobby the same Council speaker they helped to install by gaming the city’s and state’s campaign finance system. Left out in the lurch as a consequence of the these political machinations are voters, who will have no say in what the messaging will be that comes out of the universal pre-kinder or the police reform movements that are now controlled by the political operatives loyal to the mayor and to the Council speaker.

But the mayor's reliance on outside astroturf groups that double as political operatives for his municipal agenda has its price : his political opponents also have at their disposal the same tactics, and so it was that when Mayor de Blasio sought to place restrictions on the growth of charter schools in New York City, his political opponents organized their own public relations campaign. Buying up TV ad time to broadcast political attack ads, an innocuous-sounding, pro-charter school group named Families for Excellent Schools portrayed Mayor de Blasio as deaf to the grassroots needs of the community, a campaign eerily similar to the one used by NYC Is Not For Sale against Mayor de Blasio's former political nemesis, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Whereas Families for Excellent Schools is structured as two entities : Families for Excellent Schools, Inc., a 501(c)(3) entity and Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy, a 501(c)(4) entity, NYC Is Not For Sale was set up as a Super PAC. Mayor de Blasio and his supporters decried the Families for Excellent Schools' TV attack ads just like former Council Speaker Quinn had decried the NYC Is Not For Sale's TV attack ads. Confronted last year about the NYC Is Not For Sale campaign, then candidate de Blasio initially defended NYC Is Not For Sale's attack ads, saying, "People decided to speak out, and that's their legal right. But the fact is in our system, everything can and will be disclosed, and that's what the people require," although, contrary to then candidate de Blasio, the Super PAC got into trouble for failing to fully disclose its activities, as "the people require." At the time, Mr. de Blasio added that he'd be open to later reforming campaign finance laws (presumably after NYC Is Not For Sale sank former Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign). "The important thing is to respect the fact that we may not like the way the law is, but it's the law. I certainly will put energy going forward into trying to further reform the campaign finance system, but so long as the law is the law, people will make choices within it. That is their right, but I will certainly never ask anyone to engage in such behavior." The Campaign Finance Board should be reviewing whether the de Blasio campaign coordinated any activities with the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC, but it’s not clear if any campaign finance authority would regulate or restrict how the mayor appears to coordinate official policy with the 501(c)(4) entity that has each of lobbied for an enactment of a universal pre-kinder program for New York City and refused to disclose its contibutors and expenditures, as "the people require."

But we saw this week a news report that one of the mayor's political supporters, New York Communities for Change, opted out of a multiple plaintiff lawsuit against the spread of charter schools. New York Communities for Change, which appears to be structured as two separate entities, New York Communities for Change, Inc., a 501(c)(4) entity, and The New York Communities Organizing Fund, Inc., as a 501(c)(3), appears to take political cues from City Hall. After it became clear that Mayor de Blasio was going to support charter schools after he initially communicated that he was going to oppose their spread, New York Communities for Change decided to pull out of the lawsuit in order to stay on the same side on the issue as Mayor de Blasio. But what the charter school debacle showed was that Eva Moskowitz, the charter school administrator who helped to lead the $5 million charter school attack ads on the mayor, was able to hurt the mayor's political poll favorability ratings with her TV attack ads. A recent poll showed that only 39% of poll respondents had a favorable view of Mayor de Blasio's performance. So long as Super PAC's, independent expenditure groups, 501(c)(3) community groups, or 501(c)(4) political entities can mount million-dollar TV attack ads and city and state campaign finance regulators abdicate their responsibilities, public policy will continue to fall victim to big money donors, special interests, and lobbyists. So long as the mayor does nothing about reforming the corruptive influence of big business donors, special interests, and lobbyists in municipal politics, he's going to have to endure being the focus of political attack ads from his wealthy, big business opponents. What will it take for the mayor to follow through on his campaign finance reform promise ? Maybe his approval poll numbers need to sink below 30% ? I'm sure that there are many lobbyists and big business interests in New York City, who'd like to take credit for causing the mayor's poll numbers to sink that low. So long as the law is the law, the law appears to favor more campaign corruption.

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