Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Preet Bharara Expands Crackdown on Political Corruption, Empanels Grand Jury, Subpoenas JCOPE Complaints [UPDATED]

PUBLISHED : WED, 30 APR 2014, 09:51 PM
UPDATED : TUES, 05 MAY 2014, 10:30 AM

"Bharara’s broadening probe of pay-to-play Albany corruption is sure to send shockwaves through the state capital in an election year."

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Weeks after Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, took possession of the investigation files of the now defunct Moreland Commission, the corruption-fighting prosecutor has empaneled a grand jury that has now subpoenaed each of the complaints lodged with the state's ethics panel known as the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, and the records from members of the aborted Moreland Commission.

Mr. Bharara's subpoena of the JCOPE complaints will give him a larger understanding of the corruption landscape across New York state. JCOPE has existed since 2011, and it was tasked with investigating ethics complaints of the state's executive and legislative branches. Against the JCOPE complaints, the federal prosecutor's office will be able to match, supplement, or cross-reference the aborted Moreland Commission investigations. And the fact that Mr. Bharara empaneled a grand jury means that federal prosecutors are seeking criminal indictments in possible connection with the aborted Moreland Commission corruption investigations. Whatever the USAO learns from the JCOPE complaints and commission member records may be the "icing on the cake," so to speak, to garnish other corruption evidence that federal prosecutors may have been able to independently gather from prior wiretaps, other investigations, and possible whistleblower-activists.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has been resoundingly criticized for the apparent free pass to Wall Street following the 2008 global financial crisis and recession. The media, notably PBS's Frontline, showed that the U.S. Department of Justice's Washington office, known as Main Justice, was compromised by officials, such as Lanny Breuer, who refused to prosecute top Wall Street executives. Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the DOJ and advises the USAO's district offices, created a scandal when he confirmed the Obama administration's aversion to prosecuting corrupt Wall Street executives, known colloquially as "too big to jail," validating a Frontline investigation and widespread public perception. Indeed, Main Justice appears to serve as a revolving door recruitment outpost for large, wealthy law firms representing corrupt Wall Street executives. For his part, Mr. Bharara has bemoaned the Washington budget cuts to the USAO that many government reform activists claim are intentionally made to curtail regulatory oversight and criminal prosecution of corruption, but some activists believe that Mr. Bharara never prosecuted Wall Street corruption stemming from the 2008 financial crisis and recession due to his close ties to Sen. Charles Schumer, who many see as enabling the corruption culture on Wall Street. Mr. Bharara's political career came to prominence when he served as chief counsel to Sen. Schumer, making the senator the prosecutor's "political daddy." Mr. Bharara has also carried out his own oppression against whistleblowers when he prosecuted Jeremy Hammond for exposing corruption by Strategic Forecasting, part of the DOJ's larger persecution of whistleblowers, including government whistleblowers. The DOJ was further seen to have become politicized under President Obama and Attorney General Holder, when the DOJ began to target journalists in an effort to undermine a free press whilst carrying out the government's vindictive prosecution of whistleblowers. Separately, the DOJ was shown to stall a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records about its vindictive prosecution of activists.

Locally, it is supposed to be the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who is supposed to oversee the criminal prosecution of political and corporate corruption. He works for the New York State attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. Both D.A. Vance and Mr. Schneiderman have pretty much abdicated corruption prosecution to Mr. Bharara. More so than the others, D.A. Vance is vulnerable to the political realities of how he can run for office. District attorneys in the five boroughs of New York run for office with the approval of the local county political organization. Since New York is overwhelmingly a Democratic Party enclave, the county Democratic Party chair of each borough must approve of each respective district attorney candidate running for office, meaning D.A. Vance would not dare sacrifice his political career by prosecuting political corruption of officials, operatives, or lobbyists loyal to the county political organization that approves of his candidacy. That is to say, D.A. Vance will not prosecute candidates for public office, who may be engaged in questionable electioneering activities and who run with approval of the Manhattan Democratic Party chair, otherwise he risks alienating himself from his own political supporters. Instead, D.A. Vance touts his prosecution record against activists, paralleling the DOJ's own suppression campaign against activists.

Mr. Bharara's crackdown on political corruption may be his way of being able to attack the special interest money and lobbyists of large corrupt corporations, at least as they intersect with government officials, one activist said. Plus, it allows him to restore his reputation for prosecutorial independence after his and others' failures at the USAO and the DOJ. It also separates Mr. Bharara from D.A. Vance's failure to prosecute corruption of either Wall Street or elected officials.

The increased prosecution of New York political corruption cases by Mr. Bharara is taking place during the run-up to this year's state-wide election cycle, and it follows a spectacular spree of federal political corruption arrests of officials from City Hall to Albany. With the added access to JCOPE complaints and commission member records to augment his trove of Moreland Commission investigation files, Mr. Bharara may now be poised to lead a historical renewal of government integrity, regardless of his motivation. For all of Mr. Bharara's imperfections, activists in New York have not pressed the Obama administration to reform the USAO and the DOJ. Mr. Bharara's like Batman in "The Dark Knight" : not the hero that Gotham needs, but, rather, the hero Gotham deserves.

United Nations Free & Equal Bollywood Campaign Video for "The Welcome"

Changing Hearts and Minds

The United Nations "Free & Equal" campaign presents the first-ever Bollywood music video for equal QUILTBAG rights, featuring Bollywood star and Miss India winner Celina Jaitly. Like and share if you believe everyone should be welcomed into their family's hearts, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Nexus of Campaign Donations, Super PAC's, and Legislation : de Blasio's Mayoral Race and the Delayed Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban [UPDATED]

3 Back-to-Back Days of Sordid Coverage in The New York Daily News

Christine Quinn FBI Investigation de Blasio NY-CLASS Scott Levenson photo 2014-04-27ChristineQuinnFBIInvestigationdeBlasioNY-CLASSScottLevenson_zps2fb7d5ad.png

The FBI questioned ex-Council Speaker Christine Quinn in its probe of alleged carriage horse conniving during last year’s mayoral race, The New York Daily News has learned. (FBI asks Christine Quinn about vicious attack ads launches by animal rights group, probes de Blasio's flip-flop on carriage ban as inquiry widens. * The New York Daily News)

NY-CLASS Bill de Blasio The Advance Group John Wilhelm FBI Campaign Corruption Investigation photo 2014-04-25FBIInvestigationSpreadingNYCLASSdeBlasioCousin_zps7160dd53.png

FBI agents have been questioning people about each of the pledge then mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio made in March 2013 and the ads launched the following month by animal rights activists attacking former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (far right), The New York Daily News is reporting, adding that FBI agents also appear interested in a $175,000 contribution to the animal rights group NY-CLASS from a union tied to de Blasio's cousin, labor leader John Wilhelm (center). (FBI investigation of mayoral race includes Bill de Blasio's pledge to ban carriage horses * The New York Daily News)

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). This isn't Mr. Levenson's first time in the crosshairs of a serious political corruption investigation. Five years ago, Mr. Levenson was an official of ACORN, a community group that was charged with voter registration fraud. (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 : WED, 23 APR 2014, 11:00 AM
UPDATED : TUES, 29 APR 2014, 09:35 AM

On Richard French Live, Andrew Whitman, Dominic Carter, Jeanne Zaino, and former Rep. Chris Shays engaged in a round table discussion about the controversial role of a Super PAC in last year's mayoral election that has cast a lingering shadow in the current discussions on a delayed proposed ban of horse-drawn carriages in New York City.

What is truly delaying the horse-drawn carriage ban : is it the lack of a draft legislative bill, or is it the federal definition of bribery ?

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Two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his planned ban of the horse carriage industry in New York City has been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, but the circumstances he identified did not include the investigation into the lobbyist Scott Levenson and his lobbying firm, The Advance Group.

The Advance Group is at the center of an investigation by city campaign finance regulators over the circuitous flow of campaign cash between Super PAC's and official campaigns administered by The Advance Group. But many government reform activists do not have confidence in the city's campaign finance regulatory authority, the Campaign Finance Board. The Campaign Finance Board is governed by a Board that routinely makes politically-motivated rulings. For example, last year former Council Speaker Christine Quinn returned what were believed to be $25,000 in straw donations connected to the corruption case of William Rapfogel, and just last week the de Blasio campaign offered to return illegal straw campaign donations -- an option the Campaign Finance Board never gave Mr. de Blasio's challenger, former city Comptroller John Liu, over the same infraction. Few reform activists believe that the Campaign Finance Board's chair, Rose Gill Hearn, who let the massive CityTime fraud scandal exceed $600 million on her watch as head of the city's Department of Investigation, is capable of carrying out thorough corruption investigations of any kind. Cementing the impression that the city campaign finance regulatory authority is incapable of investigating possible campaign corruption at City Hall is the fact that the authority's board is appointed by the mayor and the City Council speaker. Consequently, a blogger filed a civilian crime report with the U.S. Attorney's Office, asking federal prosecutors to investigate the electioneering activities of The Advance Group for possible federal crimes. Mr. Levenson has close ties to both the mayor and to the City Council speaker, and Mr. Levenson administered a million dollar Super PAC to defeat former Council Speaker Christine Quinn's mayoral campaign at the same time when the Super PAC's donors were seen to be closely allied with Mr. de Blasio's mayoral campaign. It is against federal law for Super PAC's to coordinate their independent expenditures with the political campaigns of candidates, but The New York Daily News reported this week that last summer two of Mr. de Blasio's top financial supporters contributed a total of $225,000 to NY-CLASS -- on the same day.

John Wilhelm, cousin to Bill de Blasio photo JohnWilhelm_zps25ae64d5.jpg

"One of the givers was his cousin, John Wilhelm, then head of the union group UNITE HERE!, which wrote out a check for $175,000 to NYCLASS — the biggest contribution NYCLASS had ever received. The other was Jay Eisenhoffer, an attorney. Wilhelm and Eisenhoffer both acted as 'intermediaries' for de Blasio’s campaign, collecting $165,000 for him, records show," The New York Daily News reported.

melissa mark viverito photo: New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito MelissaMark-Viverito-Frown-mmv2e-1-web_zps61f81731.jpg

Equally troubling for Mr. Levenson and his lobbying firm is that they provided free lobbying services for Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito's speakership campaign at the same time when Mr. Levenson, along with his Super PAC's and their donors, were pressing for the city to enact a horse-drawn carriage ban. Under federal law, if a lobbyist pays money or makes a gift to an elected official and asks for a favor of the elected official, that's enough to prove a bribe has been transacted. On or about the time when The Advance Group was advising Councilmember Mark-Viverito on her speakership campaign, Councilmember Mark-Viverito established a campaign finance account with the state campaign finance regulatory authority, the Board of Elections, in betrayal of the spirit of campaign finance laws which act to minimize the corruptive role of money in politics. Prior to opening the Board of Elections account, Councilmember Mark-Viverito had already drawn down an entire fundraising cycle of regulated campaign contributions, subjects to fundraising caps, spending limits, and public matching dollar eligibility, in order to win her reëlection to the City Council. Her opening of a second campaign account through the Board of Elections was unprecedented. No law was changed to allow Councilmember Mark-Viverito to establish her Council speakership campaign finance account with the Board of Elections, and it is believed that her predecessor, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, as corrupt as many activists believed Ms. Quinn to be, never flagrantly violated the spirit of campaign finance laws to this same extreme degree. Moreover, the free lobbying services provided by The Advance Group to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's speakership campaign were never declared as in-kind contributions to the Campaign Finance Board or to the Board of Elections, even though the law requires that donations of services or other gifts to campaign committees must be declared and disclosed. Perhaps to further deceive campaign finance regulators, Councilmember Mark-Viverito publicly announced that she had fired The Advance Group from her speakership campaign after The Advance Group became engulfed in a series of corruption investigations by bloggers and mainstream media, but the truth is that The Advance Group kept working on her speakership campaign, contrary to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's statements to the press. NY-CLASS has a long history with Councilmember Mark-Viverito, stretching back to at least 2010, when she co-sponsored legislation pushed by NY-CLASS to phase out the horse-drawn carriages.

Now that The Advance Group faces at the prospect of more than one investigation into its questionable electioneering activities, the mayor and the Council speaker have delayed the enactment of the horse-drawn carriage ban in a political move some consider to be a possible cover-up of the quid pro quo nature of the crucial roles that The Advance Group's Super PAC monies and its free lobbying services played in the election of the mayor and the selection of the Council speaker, respectively.

To manufacture a delay in the horse carriage ban bill, Councilmember Daniel Dromm has been nominally tasked with the bill's drafting, striking back at Queens Democratic Party officials with whom he broke during the Council speaker race

Queens Democrats have historically supported the horse carriage industry, at least since the time when Thomas Manton was chair of the Queens Democratic Party. After Councilmember Daniel Dromm's recent break with Queens County Democrats during the Council speaker race, the councilmember now very publicly opposes the horse carriage industry -- and ranking Queens Democratic Party officials.

Word on the street for many years was that the reason that former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wouldn't support a ban on horse-drawn carriages was because the former chair of the Queens County Democratic Party, former Rep. Thomas Manton, was allied with the horse carriage drivers, who are unionized, making them a natural constituency group.

After Mr. Manton passed away, Rep. Joseph Crowley, became chair of the Queens County Democratic Party. Councilmember Dromm was elected to his post in 2009 as an insurgent candidate without the institutional support of the county Democrats. Recently, Councilmember Dromm and his close colleague, Councilmember James Van Bramer, turned their backs on the Council speaker candidate, Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, who had the support of their former fellow Queens County Democrats. Therefore, Councilmember Dromm's break with his Democratic Party peers in respect of the proposed horse-drawn carriage ban is adding to the bad blood created during the schism over the recent Council speaker race, perhaps indication of a lingering resentment stemming from his unsupported 2009 race for City Council. All this unnecessary political agita.

Steve Nislick NYCLASS Edison Properties LLC photo Steve-Nislick-NYCLASS_zps7cee6296.jpg

Stalling the horse carriage ban bill gives the mayor a political cover story to explain his backpedaling.

A few critics of the mayor's promise to ban the horse-drawn carriage industry point to the special interests that Edison Properties LLC and its former chief executive officer, Steve Nislick, have in emptying the land being used as horse stables by the carriage trade.

At the other end of this fight are animal rights activists, who are trying to change the hearts and minds of the public about animal rights. Animal rights activists make the noble argument that horses have no place in Midtown Manhattan traffic, given the many examples of traffic accidents, injuries, and even deaths caused by what they see as inhumane conditions.

But the real issue of the delay in the ban, the use of the drafting of a bill as a stalling tactic, and the mayor's changing of the timeline to ban the horse-drawn carriages from his first day in office to sometime later this year comes down to investigations of a campaign consulting and lobbying group at the center of the issue's swift rise to prominence.

The Advance Group, headed by the lobbyist Scott Levenson, administered a Super PAC largely funded by donors loyal to Mr. de Blasio to defeat his chief challenger in last year's mayoral race, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The Super PAC donors also included advocates pressing for the horse-drawn carriage ban. Mr. Levenson also advised the 501(c)(4) non-profit animal rights group named New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NY-CLASS, which was conveniently founded by Mr. Nislick, the real estate developer. Mr. Levenson also authorized his firm to provide free lobbying services to Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito in her successful bid to be selected as the current City Council speaker. Any legislative ban, once Councilmember Dromm has finished drafting the bill, must have Speaker Mark-Viverito's support. Thanks to Mr. Levenson's crucial support during her speakership campaign, Speaker Mark-Viverito is now indebted to The Advance Group's legislative asks. To cement The Advance Group's role at the nexus for campaign donations, Super PAC spending, and lobbying services that benefitted the mayor and the Council speaker, The Advance Group also is a paid lobbyist to Edison Properties LLC. Edison Properties LLC stands to benefit from banning the horse-drawn carriage trade from the closure of the carriage horses' stables, which would free up that space, which Edison Properties LLC covets, for possible zone-busting real estate development. The Advance Group is getting paid or has positioned itself to benefit from each side of the mayor's promise to ban the horse-drawn carriage trade. And, as if to compensate for The Advance Group's undeclared in-kind contribution of free lobbying services to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's Council speakership race, Edison Properties LLC paid The Advance Group $15,000 at the start of this year, potentially coinciding with the end of Councilmember Mark-Viverito's successful speakership electioneering campaign.

This wouldn't be the first time that allegations involving The Advance Group using a third-party vehicle to structure a payment stream that has, at times, over-lapped with services The Advance Group was providing to a political campaign. The Advance Group became implicated in questionable electioneering work on behalf of City Council Candidate Igor Oberman. "Last April, records show, Mr. Oberman signed off on a six-month, $45,000 lobbying contract with the Advance Group for the portion of the massive Coney Island co-op he runs a part of, Trump Village, at the same time the Advance Group was running Mr. Oberman's political campaign, separately earning $73,000," reported Crain's Insider muckraking journalist Chris Bragg. Mr. Bragg also uncovered The Advance Group's use of a fictitious political consulting firm to help obscure its backroom Super PAC political machinations during last year's municipal elections.

Last year, The New York Daily News examined how politicians and lobbyists are "often connected at the hip" as a consequence of campaign consultants doubling as lobbyists, a troubling situation that is "raising alarms for ethics watchdogs." Among the two-timing campaign consultants/lobbyists singled-out in the article was The Advance Group.

Against the backdrop of The Advance Group proverbially "jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," to borrow Matt Tiabbi's famous phrase, is the crackdown on political corruption being waged by federal prosecutors in New York. Although city and state laws have not kept up with the corruptive role of campaign consultants doubling as lobbyists, federal laws make it easy to prosecute criminal cases against corrupt lobbyists.

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Based on the federal definition of a bribe, a corrupt lobbyist doesn’t have to get payback to be guilty. A corrupt lobbyist just has to pay money (like, perhaps, steer donations or make a valuable gift, like the undeclared free provision of lobbying services) to a political candidate or an elected official, and then make an ask for a legislative favour for the lobbyist's client. That’s it : that's sufficient to make the corrupt lobbyist guilty.

No matter how long the mayor or the City Council delay the legislative ban on horse-drawn carriages, or whether the ban ever comes to fruition, it may not have any impact on a possible federal bribery charge, if that is what federal prosecutors find what happened between The Advance Group in respect of the mayor's promise to ban the horse-drawn carriage trade. Perhaps that is why one saw the Editorial Board of The New York Times trying to persuade the mayor earlier this month into abandoning the horse-drawn carriage ban, because the editors suspect that legal troubles may lay ahead.

Since city and state prosecutors are known to rarely, if ever, prosecute public corruption cases involving lobbyists and other corrupt political insiders, and with the notable disbanding of the Moreland Commission, the loose city and state laws that permit shady lobbying activities will not govern any federal review of possibly illegal campaign finance and bribery activities that may apply to The Advance Group's role in the drive to ban carriage horses, no matter how noble the cause may be to animal rights activists.

HORSE POLITICS -- “Mayor de Blasio's position on horse carriages switched as the cash rolled in” by News’ Greg Smith: De Blasio switched positions on the issue, first expressing doubt about a potential ban and later embracing it. Along the way, he pocketed $45,000 in a stream of campaign checks from the anti-carriage crowd, a Daily News review found.

“He was also the beneficiary of a highly choreographed media blitz against his chief rival for City Hall — former Council Speaker Christine Quinn — an effort funded to a great extent by the anti-carriage crowd. … De Blasio’s spokesman, Phil Walzak, did not respond Tuesday to questions about the donations. …

“Checks from anti-carriage supporters like [Wendy] Neu, NYCLASS co-founder Stephen Nislick and others continued through 2009 and into 2010. Meanwhile, de Blasio — then public advocate — stayed neutral when dueling laws to either reform or simply ban the carriages popped up in the City Council. …

“By January 2011, NYCLASS supporters had written $20,400 in checks to de Blasio. One month later, he came around for the first time, declaring support for an outright carriage ban in a Huffington Post story.” (Mayor de Blasio's position on horse carriages switched as the cash rolled in * The New York Daily News with Summary by Capital New York)

The horse-drawn carriage ban is about more than just a corrupt real estate deal for the horse stables ; it's emblematic of a broken political system that keeps giving permanent government insider lobbyists access to elected officials.

The common denominator to the public corruption cases being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office are the corrupt political operatives that grease the wheels of government.

Equally important, it seems, is another of the mayor's broken campaign promises : to reform the municipal campaign finance system, which The New York Times recently described as open to manipulation.

The corruptive influence of Super PAC money in the last municipal election cycle is no more different than the role that big money donations have on government policy.

Ironically, one of the many TV attack ads that the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC administered by Mr. Levenson broadcast about former Speaker Quinn focused on the $30,000 in campaign contributions she received from the family that controls the Rudin Management Company, a large New York City real estate developer.

When NYC Is Not For Sale asked voters how could they support Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign for allowing the role of big money donors to influence the luxury condo development that is replacing St. Vincent's Hospital, it could very well ask a version of the same question of the role of the Super PAC money influencing Mayor de Blasio's policy on the proposed horse-drawn carriage ban.

Christine Quinn,Rudin Family,Rudin Management,Mayor 2013 NYC,Campaign Donations,Real Estate Deals,Hospital Closings,St. Vincent's Hospital

In the wake of the three days of back-to-back reporting by The New York Daily News, the mayor keeps denying he had any role in coordinating the corrupt Super PAC spending. 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." But so far, the mayor has betrayed his campaign promise to reform the loose campaign finance laws that allow Super PAC's to game elections. Furthermore, former Speaker Quinn has appeared to be milking the NY-CLASS scandal to portray herself as a victim of shady campaign finances ; meanwhile, she has a long record of political corruption.

How can we clean up our election process from the scourge of big-money special interest donors, corrupt Super PAC's, and double-dealing lobbyists ?

Breaking: Vermont Passes JRS 27 To Overturn Citizens United & End Unlimited Campaign Funding photo vermont-money-out-of-politics_zps0c8276b8.jpg

The only answer to clean elections is to ban all private campaign contributions, to fully fund elections with public money, and to institute stricter regulations on campaign consultants and lobbyists. If Mayor de Blasio were a true progressive, he would ban all private campaign contributions in New York City elections as a model for what a new era of real government reform looks like, setting a pattern that could be spread to the rest of the nation. Learn more about why advocates for "clean money" elections want to ban private donations.

While an outright overturning of the corruptive role of Citizens United may be technically impossible to create at a municipal level, there are other actions that City Hall can still nonetheless undertake. Municipal lawmakers and the mayor can repeal the law passed by former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, which weakened campaign finance regulations. There are other municipal steps that can be taken to roll back the corruptive influence that lobbyists and big business and special interest money have on local elections : (i) reforming the do-nothing Campaign Finance Board ; (ii) pressuring progressives to enforce transparency ; (iii) improving Speakership electioneering reporting to make it more difficult for candidates to jurisdiction shop to obfuscate disclosure ; (iv) ending loopholes that allow subcontractor operatives to skirt disclosure requirements ; and (v) ending the provision of free campaign services, including for the Speakership. There are still yet other local reforms that the city can enact. Another important reform that the mayor and the City Council can swiftly enact is to close the corrupt "messaging" cloaking loophole for lobbyists.

One of the principal gains made during the Progressive Era was the spread of voter referenda in state governments across the United States to counteract the outsized influence of corporations on determining government policy. Referenda gave voters a direct say in specific and important government issues, and because corporations now exert so much power over government, people should be given a direct say in corporate governance. The mayor and his municipal legislators should consider enacting a law requiring all corporations domiciled or doing business in New York City, especially those doing business with the governments, to enact reforms to their operative agreements or corporate charters that incorporate "public service" and "socially responsible investing" as business purposes and to create a public, binding stakeholder resolution process to allow city stakeholders to enforce the corporation’s "public service" and "socially responsible investing" business purposes in the way the corporation does business. A stakeholder resolution process would give voters an access point to exert public pressure on corporations to enforce compliance with public ethics. This kind of scrutiny would end the flimsy self-regulation of corporate social responsibility and create public involvement to compel true social responsibility as an influencing purpose on the governance of corporations. Other reforms that the mayor and municipal legislators could consider would be to pressure prosecutors to enforce anti-trust laws against corporations that exert monopolistic-like powers, most especially the typical special interest corporations like public and private money center banks, insurance companies, and real estate developers based right here in New York City. If Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have become too corrupted by their teams of campaign consultants and lobbyists-operatives to enact these kinds of legislative reforms, perhaps the U.S. Attorney's Office can "defeat" the culture of corruption by changing corporate culture by stipulating to these and other novel kinds of reform measures into consented court orders, settlement agreements, deferred prosecution agreements, or other plea agreements with criminally corrupt corporations. Since City Hall and the City Council have become corrupted by the influence of big money donors and corrupt lobbyists, the U.S. Attorney's Office can and should take the lead, through its court cases, to help right our democracy. The U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees the teams of federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office is far from being free from political influence. Witness how the DOJ is stalling on a very important Freedom of Information Act Request pertaining to the wrongful targeting of activists for federal prosecution, and other examples of how President Barack Obama has politicized the DOJ. Even within this imperfect system, hopefully a few brave leaders like Preet Bharara and Loretta Lynch, the top federal prosecutors for Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, can help reform the DOJ -- and our broader government.

Voters can also learn more about campaign finance reform activist Howie Hawkins' gubernatorial campaign for ideas of what it would look like to reform our corrupt campaign finance system.


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)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Does race play a factor in New York City wrongful arrest lawsuit settlements ?

The "Central Park Five" still await the settlement of their wrongful conviction and incarceration lawsuit, but the city is moving mighty swiftly in respect of two other significant cases, where both men are white.

The five black men commonly referred to as the "Central Park Five" are still waiting for the legal settlement of their wrongful conviction and incarceration lawsuits stemming from the 1989 Central Park jogger case. They were convicted in trials conducted in 1990. Teenagers at the time, their convictions were overturned in 2002, and the five men have been waiting for over a decade for New York City to compensate them for having had their lives destroyed.

From left, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise, who served prison sentences after having been wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger case, appeared together in this photograph at the New York premiere of Ken Burns’s racial tension-tinged documentary, “The Central Park Five,” in November 2012.

Law enforcement in New York City has a long history of discriminating against people of color. In the recent class action Floyd lawsuit that ruled that the New York Police Department's practice known as ''stop-and-frisk'' was unconstitutional, police were faulted for routinely targeting "blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white."

Based on the different treatment that black plaintiffs face in lawsuits against the city over wrongful convictions and incarcerations, it appears that racial profiling may now extend to the city's halls of justice. Complete statistics are not readily available, but for one 12-month span, New York City settled 35 civil rights cases against the NYPD for a total of over $22 million. New York City must be trying to contain the high cost of police brutality and discrimination against people of color by wearing them out in lengthy courthouse proceedings.

David Ranta, a white male who spent 23 years in jail after having been wrongly convicted of a 1990 murder, will receive $6.4 million settlement negotiated by the Comptroller's Office. What makes Mr. Ranta's case unique is that his demand was settled before he ever filed a lawsuit. Last year, Scott Stringer was elected as the city's comptroller. It's unknown why Mr. Stringer would be motivated to preemptively settle Mr. Ranta's case without consulting the city's Law Department -- but not take any action to settle the Central Park Five wrongful incarceration case.

Meanwhile, New York City might be prepared to settle the case of the wrongful arrest of another white male, Robert Pinter. Mr. Pinter, a gay man, was arrested in 2008 as part of what has been described as dragnet sexual orientation profiling entrapment arrests in an NYPD crackdown against gay adult video stores. It's notable that Mr. Pinter's case is nearing settlement as a result of negotiations by the city's Law Department, even though he was never incarcerated for a term of years like the Central Park Five. After his arrest, Mr. Pinter "initially pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct," Gay City News reported, but Mr. Pinter later "filed a motion to vacate his conviction, which was not opposed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office," after Mr. Pinter became aware that the NYPD was engaged in sexual orientation profiling against gay men.

Because of the many instances of prejudice that people of color face at the hands of the NYPD, activists are expressing frustration with the lack of reforms at the police department by the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, and by his controversial pick for a new police commissioner, William Bratton. While the Central Park Five await settlement of their case, the NYPD launched a cheap social media marketing gimmick this week to help improve its impression with New Yorkers. After asking citizens to tweet friendly photos of police officers with the #myNYPD hashtag, the police department was overwhelmed by an avalanche of response tweets documenting the long history of police brutality, racial profiling, and other controversial police tactics. One tweet featured the tragic case of Deion Fludd, a black teenager who was beaten senseless by police, eventually leading to death from his injuries. Like other victims or the surviving relatives of victims, the late Mr. Fludd's mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NYPD. With her young son now dead, let's hope Ms. Fludd sees justice in a time frame to make a difference in her life.

If you want to be part of the conversation about how to bring more attention and focus on efforts to reform law enforcement in New York City, please join us for a special workshop at this year's Left Forum :

UK corporate governance reform proposal being gamed even at its ideation ; small business, porn, and pot banking crackdown

When I reviewed due diligence for a large Wall Street Bank, I got good at spotting traps and black holes in customer documentation. But the Bank I worked for wouldn't press for due diligence if such requests would upset the customer or the trader, who was on boarding the customer. Ultimately, the Front Office controlled the due diligence collected by the Legal Department, just like big business interests control all legislative attempts to regulate reforms in corporate governance.

Meanwhile, Chase is closing all bank accounts held by porn stars, and HSBC has been on a scorched earth campaign to close down all small business banking accounts. Whereas banks are instructed by regulators to put classes of customers on "watch lists" if there is a potential for exposure to money laundering, organized crime connections, drug-running, arms sales to terroristic states (like Iran), other sanctions lists, etc., the truth is that many big banks are situational in how they comply with their watch lists. Recently, many large American banks (wrongly) initially refused to accept customers tied to the (now) legal marijuana business in the states that just legalized small quantity sales. Is the crackdown on legitimate small business, sex workers, and legal marijuana businesses just slimy PR stunts intended for banking compliance departments to show regulators that the banks are minding their watch lists ?

How are small businesses supposed to transact business ? How are porn stars expected to deposit pay checks, pay bills, use their credit card, and pay their publicists and agents ? How can people buy space cakes, if legal marijuana businesses can't deposit sales receipts, pay suppliers, pay taxes, and otherwise maintain their enterprise as a going concern ? This is all cookoo !!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Former Met Council Leader, Wm. Rapfogel, Enters Guilty Plea in Corruption Case

Following guilty plea convictions of Rapfogel and Cohen, Attorney General's investigation into public corruption continues.

Christine Quinn William Rapfogel Met Council Discretionary Funds New York City Council Slush Funds Corruption Investigation photo christine-quinn-william-rapfogel-crop_zps2d228203.jpg

William Rapfogel, the former leader of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, pled guilty today in state court to charges of "grand larceny, money laundering, tax fraud," and filing false documents with the city's campaign finance regulatory authority, the Campaign Finance Board, The New York Times reported today, adding that the guilty plea followed Mr. Rapfogel's arrest last September on charges of "grand larceny, money laundering, conspiracy and other crimes in a criminal complaint filed by the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman."

Mr. Rapfogel's predecessor, David Cohen, entered into his own guilty pleas to charges of grand larceny and conspiracy. Both men laundered some of their illicit gains into campaign contributions with the intention of manipulating the public matching dollar system of the city's Campaign Finance Board. "Mr. Cohen said he and Mr. Rapfogel also funneled some of the illicit money to candidates running for office, asking Mr. Ross to make contributions not only in his name but also in the names of straw donors," The New York Times report added. A press release from the Attorney General's office noted that, "These campaign contributions were made to politicians whom Rapfogel and Cohen believed could help Met Council."

Mere hours after bloggers had noted on August 12 of last year that Mr. Rapfogel's charity had received discretionary funding from former Council Speaker Christine Quinn's slush fund, former Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign announced that her campaign was returning $25,000 in campaign donations at the center of the William Rapfogel scandal.

The Attorney General's press release of today concluded that, "These convictions are a result of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office in conjunction with New York State Comptroller DiNapoli, as part of the Joint Task Force on Public Integrity. The joint investigation by the Attorney General’s and Comptroller’s offices continues."

Let's hope former Speaker Quinn has a good defense attorney.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has said that a "show me the money" culture pervades all of New York government, and many bloggers and government reform activists agree. Last year, the political blogger and YouTube producer Suzannah B. Troy confronted New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has had a decades-long close association with Mr. Rapfogel, and she asked Speaker Silver, "Are you part of the corruption ?"

Monday, April 21, 2014

VIDEO : Fire in Jackson Heights, Queens on 37th Avenue

PUBLISHED : MON, 21 APR 2014, 10:05 PM
UPDATED : TUES, 22 APR 2014, 10:33 AM

VIDEO : A five-alarm fire broke out late Monday afternoon in a large office building at 74-09 37th Avenue, between 74th and 75th Streets in Jackson Heights, Queens. The fire began at about 5:30 p.m., said one witness, who works at the pizza shop across the street from the burning building. There were three minor injuries, NY1 reported.

Jackson Heights residents coming home from work were blocked as they walked up several streets from the major transit hub at Roosevelt Avenue, about one block away from the fire.

At one point and out of caution, firefighters burst through the fourth floor windows of the building next door using the high-pressurized hose water to stop the blaze from spreading.

It took about six hours for firefighters to put out the fire. Witnesses saw three ladder companies hosing down the fire. A fourth ladder company was on the scene, but it was not actively engaged in fighting the fire. It's not known if that fourth ladder company, had it been hosing down the fire, could have extinguished the blaze sooner. Several firefighter engines were on the scene in the blocks around the burning building. The top two floors of the building could be seen as having been destroyed the the fire.

The billowing smoke from the burning building covered several apartment buildings downwind from the fire, blanketing an entire area from 74th Street and 37th Avenue to 76th Street and Northern Blvd., and perhaps beyond.

Medical offices are located in the first floor of the burning building, along with an Italian restaurant. In the upper floors, a small college, Plaza Business Institute, shares space with several businesses, NBC4 New York reported. It is estimated that the whole building is now considered destroyed, effectively putting an end to hundreds of jobs that people had with the businesses, the business college, and law and medical offices in the building.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Skepticism Meets Mayor de Blasio, Commish Bratton Announcement on Disbanding of Illegal NYPD Muslim Spying Unit

Another slight of hand press release tricks The New York Times, but not the rest of us.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio authorised NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton to disband an unconstitutional police unit that stalked New York City's Muslim community. Predictably, The New York Times fawned over this token public relations move, but other media have expressed doubt whether the New York Police Department would voluntarily end its use of racial and faith-based profiling to surveil innocent citizens.

The mayor and the police commissioner made such a public display of their "progressive" reforms to a police force battered by never-ending charges of unconstitutional tactics. "However, talk has circulated that the NYPD has little intention to stop deploying officers into Muslim areas in the city — it merely plans to do so without an official label," reported Washington Square News.

The true intention of the police department's continued violations of the Handschu Agreement is worrisome. Based on the mayor's other cosmetic changes in policy, the fact that some large, entrenched mainstream media outlets continue to accord the mayor and his police commissioner with the liberty to propagate so much political spin should raise serious concerns amongst government reform activists.

Failed Moreland Commission Leadership Haunting Kathleen Rice's Congressional Race

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 : SAT, 19 APR 2014, 11:37 AM
UPDATED : FRI, 25 APR 2014, 12:02 PM

Has Long Island Prosecutor Kathleen Rice's Reputation Taken a Hit Because of the Controversial Politicisation of the Failed Moreland Commission ?

One of the former co-chairs of the Moreland Commission, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, ditched her responsibilities on the Moreland Commission once she had gained enough fame to run for Congress. Now, one of Ms. Rice's challengers for the Congressional seat has laid political blame for the failed Moreland Commission on Ms. Rice. Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams told Newsday, “I believe the Moreland Commission failed because of Kathleen Rice’s lack of leadership.” It's unknown, yet, how voters will judge each of her term on the Moreland Commission and how quickly she appeared to abandon her public corruption investigation duties as soon as Rep. Carolyn McCarthy announced her retirement.

Gov. Cuomo's disbanding of the Moreland Commission has triggered a huge political and prosecutorial backlash from good government groups to the top federal prosecutor in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Andrew Cuomo Kathleen Rice Maitre Karlsson photo andrew-cuomo-kathleen-rice-maitre-karlsson_zpsf2dca878.jpg

Critics question how deeply corruption panel co-chair Kathleen Rice would probe Sheldon Silver after campaign contributions.

Before its disbanding, state officials and government reform activists questioned how aggressively Gov. Cuomo's corruption panel would investigate Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, after the law firm that employed Mr. Silver gave nearly $300,000 in campaign donations to Ms. Rice. (The New York Daily News)* Governor’s Crusade Against Corruption Comes With Too Many Asterisks (NYTimes) * To Gut Independence of Moreland Commission, Gov. Cuomo appointed Kathleen Rice as co-chair. Ms. Rice had been Cuomo's favourite for Attorney General before Eric Schneiderman won the AG race. (Capital New York) * Gov. Cuomo's naming of Ms. Rice to co-chair of Moreland Commission was a way to cut out Mr. Schneiderman from Moreland investigation of political and campaign corruption.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has said that a "show me the money" culture pervades all of New York government, and many bloggers and government reform activists agree. Last year, the political blogger and YouTube producer Suzannah B. Troy confronted New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and she asked him, "Are you part of the corruption ?"