Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito evaded campaign finance caps by opening second account to fund Council speaker race

City and state campaign finance regulatory authorities look the other way, as New York Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito uses a campaign committee account set up for a sham 2017 campaign to pay over $100,000 for her 2013 Council speaker race.

Not even former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was accused of being each of shady, unethical, and a political boss in the old-fashioned corrupt sense by many New York political bloggers, ever dared to be this blatantly egregious

Updated information about campaign committee fundraising and expenditures were made this week by elected officials serving in New York State to the state's campaign finance regulatory authority, the New York State Board of Elections.

The filing by New York Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito showed some activity since her January filing, but the latest disclosures of her 2017 campaign committee still showed no expenditures to pay for the lobbying services provided to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's successful speakership campaign that began in earnest following her successful reelection to the City Council.

It was publicly reported that The Advance Group was providing lobbying services to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's speakership campaign. Those services were described as being provided for free, even though municipal campaign finance regulations require that in-kind contributions be declared. The Council speakership is a leadership post of the city's legislative body that is secondary to the leader's Council seat. The speakership is served concurrently for the term of the leadership post with the elected official's service of the underlying Council seat.

Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's use of The Advance Group triggered extensive media scrutiny, notably by political bloggers and several mainstream media outlets. Further criticism were made when it was shown that many of the political operatives, who worked on Councilmember Mark-Viverito's successful speakership campaign were later given high-ranking patronage jobs with the City Council. Other lobbyists were reported to have been helping Speaker Mark-Viverito determine the assignments of secondary and tertiary leadership posts at the City Council.

Candidates, who run for the City Council and who participate in the matching contribution program of the city's campaign finance regulatory authority, the Campaign Finance Board, as was the case with Councilmember Mark-Viverito, are subject to fundraising caps and spending limits. However, Councilmember Mark-Viverito opened a second campaign committee account with the state's campaign finance regulatory authority, and her campaign committee designated that second account for the 2017 election cycle.

If the state Board of Elections had done its due diligence, it would have relatively easily discovered that Councilmember Mark-Viverito had just participated in the Campaign Finance Board's matching campaign contribution program, and that the leadership post she was very publicly seeking would be won through a lobbying campaign of her fellow City Councilmembers, who vote to select the Council speaker, rendering that second state campaign committee account to be a vehicle to fund the leadership post that would be served concurrently with her elected office. Until now, nobody knows the rationale for why the state's Board of Election continues to approve the fundraising and expenditures through Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's sham 2017 campaign committee account, when that account has been and is being used for a leadership post with dual mandate implications. A dual mandate is a controversial loophole that allows a person to serve more than one elected office at the same time, meaning, that an elected official would have competing interests as the office holder carries out his or her duties to the public. An elected official serving a dual mandate would be beholden to teams of lobbyists, campaign consultants, and big money donors that would trash the spirit of campaign finance laws and would open the door to appearances of conflicts of interest, steering patronage jobs to political operatives, allowing lobbyists a greater say over government business, and other questionable dealings. There is no known municipal precedent for dual campaign committee accounts to be authorized for the concurrent service of a publicly elected municipal office and a municipal leadership post that is secondary to the elected office.

Furthermore, no other City Councilmember was allowed the unfair advantage of staying within the fundraising and expenditure caps of the Campaign Finance Board and still circumvent those caps with a state Board of Elections campaign committee account that is subject to no restrictions.

When contacted last March, representatives of the state Board of Elections turned down a Freedom of Information Law request for the rationale for approving Councilmember Mark-Viverito's second campaign committee account, and, after negotiation, agreed to provide the account opening documents for her sham 2017 campaign committee.


Melissa Mark-Viverito spent big bucks on speaker's race, campaign filings show (The New York Daily News)

Council speaker puts connected lobbyist on payroll (Crain's New York Business)

Lobbyists aid Mark-Viverito transition (Crain's New York Business)

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