Saturday, June 7, 2014

More questions about Melissa Mark-Viverito's campaign finances and her lobbyists

Undeclared campaign finance expenses tied to a fundraising trip to Chicago and the growing role of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's campaign consultants increases concerns that Speaker Mark-Viverito may be further flouting campaign finance regulations and ethics rules.

Melissa Mark-Viverito photo melissa_mark-viverito_3_zpscc49b72b.jpg

Five months into her Council speakership, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito continues to be dogged by questions about her campaign finances and her compliance with city ethics rules.

The latest campaign finance issue centers around a fundraising trip Speaker Mark-Viverito made to Chicago in the time leading up to last year's municipal elections. Although the trip included fundraising activities, Speaker Mark-Viverito's campaign committee neither incurred nor declared any expenses for that trip. If her campaign committee benefited from in-kind contributions from others, those contributions must be declared, according to campaign finance regulations. In a press report in The Wall Street Journal about this latest campaign finance question, it was shown that Speaker Mark-Viverito's trip was paid for by the Participatory Budgeting Project. But a review of her contribution records available online with the city's campaign finance regulatory authority, the names of Speaker Mark-Viverito's contributors do not include the Participatory Budgeting Project, not even in an in-kind capacity.

The campaign consulting firm, Pitta Bishiop Del Giorno, which managed Speaker Mark-Viverito's City Council reelection and speakership campaigns last year, has seen its influence increase in city government since last year's municipal elections. Pitta Bishop Del Giorno has even begun to lobby Speaker Mark-Viverito, a worrisome sign to good government reform activists, who fret about the growing corruptive role of money and lobbyists in the conduct of government business.

The on-going questions about how Speaker Mark-Viverito and her lobbyists managed her campaign finances, and the growing role of those lobbyists in the conduct of the city's business, raise concerns as to whether her management style leans toward a predisposition of flouting compliance with campaign finance and ethics rules. Last year, Speaker Mark-Viverito accepted unpaid and undeclared campaign consulting services from a controversial lobbying firm that has since become the subject of possible federal and municipal corruption investigations, according to several press reports. In respect of those free campaign consultant services, provided by The Advance Group, Speaker Mark-Viverito's campaign committee never declared the fair market value of the intensive lobbying efforts involved in the heated speakership campaign as in-kind contributions, either.

Public servants are prohibited from accepting valuable gifts from firms that intend to do business with the city, and lobbyists, in turn, are prohibited from giving those gifts, according to an analysis of city ethics rules by The New York Daily News.

But Speaker Mark-Viverito is not alone in stirring controversy with her close alliance with the lobbying firm of Pitta Bishop Del Giorno.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has released records of his meetings with lobbyists during the first three months of his term in office, and those records show that he met with Vincent Pitta, a name partner in the lobbying firm of Pitta Bishop Del Giorno that is closely allied with the mayor and with Council Speaker Mark-Viverito.

A press report about Mayor de Blasio's early meetings with lobbyists make no mention of lobbying meetings with James Capalino, a shady real estate lobbyist, who supported the mayor's successful political campaign last year. Mr. Capalino was one of the top lobbyists, who orchestrated a corrupting million-dollar, lobbyist-fuled fundraiser for the mayor's campaign last year at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Mr. Capalino also worked as a real estate lobbyist on the controversial conversion of St. Vincent's Hospital into a billion-dollar luxury condo and townhouse complex in the West Village. Activists shilling for Mayor de Blasio claimed that he was going to offer the voters a clean break from the lobbyist-enabler that was his main rival in last year's mayoral race, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Former Speaker Quinn had a reputation for working closely with lobbyists and campaign donors, including having meetings with former donors to discuss legislative proposals. But judging by how both the mayor and his new Council speaker have incorporated their lobbyists into the conduct of city business, there may be no detectable difference at all in the way Mayor de Blasio runs the city from how former Council Speaker Quinn would have administered the city.

Another controversial, politically-connected firm that was left out of early disclosures of the mayor's meetings with lobbyists was Berlin Rosen. Berlin Rosen was installed by Mayor de Blasio to run his outside lobbying effort to campaign for a universal pre-kinder program in New York City. Berlin Rosen was also placed in charge with assisting with the media communication of the controversial coalition of police reform groups known as Communities United for Police Reform, or CPR. Ever since Mayor de Blasio appointed William Bratton as police commissioner, the mayor has needed to have loyalists control the messaging for police reform groups, in order to demobilize calls for radical reforms to city's law enforcement agencies. It's unclear why the mayor failed to classify his administration's meeting with Berlin Rosen as not rising to the level of lobbying, when that's exactly Berlin Rosen's role.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal's report included an update from the city's campaign finance regulatory authority, namely, that the Campaign Finance Board had not yet completed its campaign audit for former Council Speaker Quinn's unsuccessful mayoral campaign.

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