Was the mayor's ''nonprofit'' lobbying group, the Campaign for One New York, designed to be the political arm of City Hall, even before the new mayor was sworn in ?
501(c)(4) Nonprofit Group That Appears To Be Coordinating Political Activities For de Blasio Spent $1.7 Million In First Half Of 2014
The lobbying group formerly known as UPKNYC, largely responsible for pushing the mayor's policy of expanding pre-kinder to more New Yorkers (but which notably stopped short of being truly universal), transformed itself into a blank-check nonprofit group that now serves as the political arm of City Hall. The group, rebranded as the Campaign for One New York, has raised nearly $2 million to coordinate political activities outside City Hall in advancing Mayor Bill de Blasio's political agenda.
Within six or seven weeks into Mayor de Blasio's new administration, the press began to raise questions about the shift of lobbyists and political operatives from the mayor's former campaign to the new nonprofit group. Shortly thereafter, political bloggers noticed the pattern of cycling political activities through various structures, which are sometimes just sufficiently distant from the new mayor -- and sometimes not.
The nonprofit group was organized in December, even before the new mayor was sworn in, in anticipation of needing a well-funded astroturf group to keep activists and lobbyists alike occupied with the mayor's agenda. Some good government groups raise questions about government ethics in how the mayor fundraises for his political nonprofit. For example, the pro-business publication, Crain's New York Business, published a report showing that before the mayor signed a favorable labor contract with the municipal teachers' union, the national teachers' union made a sizable contribution to the mayor's political nonprofit.
Is the mayor selling official acts in exchange for political donations to the Campaign for New York ?
At least two of the largest donors to the Campaign for One New York were donors to the Anybody But Quinn effort last year, which acted to help elect Mayor de Blasio by defeating former Council Speaker Christine Quinn's mayoral campaign. Those donors were the businesswoman Wendy Neu and the union UNITE HERE!, according to an analysis of donation records performed by The New York Times. The union UNITE HERE! was once led by Mayor de Blasio's cousin, John Wilhelm. A third donor, Edison Properties, was formerly headed by Steve Nislick, who founded the animal rights group NY-CLASS, another nonprofit that was behind the Super PAC that, unbeknownst to voters, was acting to help elect Mayor de Blasio. The Super PAC was advised by the lobbying firm, The Advance Group.
The same pattern of lobbyists and donors showing up over and over again across different 501(c)(4) groups and Super PAC's raises the question at to whether political activities are being coordinated between the mayor's supporters.
Political operatives at 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East funneled $250,000 in contributions to the mayor's lobbying group, even though the mayor turned his back on his campaign promise to save LICH.
One of the most controversial interactions between the mayor's lobbying group and New York voters has been the role of Long Island College Hospital, or LICH, as the Brooklyn hospital was known. The mayor appealed to voters to elect him as mayor after he made a series of campaign promises that would, in effect, turn the page to the 1% enabling Bloomberg-Quinn administration. In his promises to break with the Bloomberg-Quinn policies, then candidate de Blasio promised to fight for "hospitals, not condos" and he pledged to end the stop-and-frisk era. The role of lobbyists connected to the Campaign for One New York figure prominently in how the mayor has betrayed those promises central to his successful mayoral campaign.
Political operatives from the large healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, drove the union to contribute $250,000 to the nonprofit acting as the mayor's political arm even as the mayor was turning his back on the slow-motion shuttering of LICH. Helping to deflect the mayor's refusal to save LICH were operatives from the lobbying firm, Berlin Rosen. The PR spin doctor Dan Levitan handles issues for Mayor de Blasio where Berlin Rosen must score political points in the face of de Blasio administration failures, and Mr. Levitan was tasked with justifying the mayor's refusal to save LICH. The work Mr. Levitan did included overseeing the mailing of controversial printed literature that praised Mayor de Blasio. The closure of LICH has triggered a resounding backlash in Brooklyn, the supposed center of Mayor de Blasio's political support, proving that the Campaign for One New York isn't necessarily doing advocacy work to benefit the community so much as it's also doing damage control as the mayor sells out to big money real estate developers, as the case with the LICH closure has proved.
Besides confusing voters to deflect blame away from Mayor de Blasio, Mr. Levitan also oversees communication from the largest umbrella group of police reform organizations in New York City, Communities United for Police Reform, or CPR, as the umbrella group is known. Mr. Levitan stops-and-frisks all reform communication from these groups to subjugate the community's demands for police reform to the mayor's need to appease Big Businesses, who demand that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton enforce a "broken windows theory" of policing, to jail the poor, people of color, and other troublesome minorities as part of real estate developers' campaign to further gentrify New York City to support higher and higher, forever escalating real estate prices. Even though the mayor campaigned on a promise to end policing tactics that unconstitutionally targeted minorities, the mayor installs lobbyists and de Blasiobots to block reforms, turning a deaf ear to demands from minority communities that the New York Police Department be reformed.
The mayor's lobbyists, campaign consultants, and Big Money donors turn to 501(c)(3) charity groups, 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups, Super PAC's, campaign committee accounts, and possibly even political party committee accounts to fund coordinated political activities.
A few weeks ago, the mayor's close political ally, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, authorized the distribution of about $50 million in taxpayer monies to some of the city's largest charity groups. For years, these budget allocations have been being made under allegations of political favoritism, and this year was no different. Politically-connected groups, like the Hispanic Federation, received outsized distributions from the speaker's slush fund. The Hispanic Federation is a project of a political insider, who has worked as a chief campaign consultant to the Council speaker, according to NPQ, the journal of the Nonprofit Information Networking Association. City grants to the Hispanic Federation comprise over 30 per cent. of the annual budget of the nonprofit, according to some statistics, and the Hispanic Federation pays the Council speaker's campaign consultant for his lobbying work out of its annual budget. Having lobbyists get paid through a pass-through entity helps keep politically-motivated budget allocations funneling in a circuitous pattern.
When the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration isn't funneling money to politically-connected 501(c)(3) groups, like the Hispanic Federation, they use 501(c)(4) groups, like the Campaign For One New York, to coordinate their political activities, or funding for CPR member groups to block police reforms. As a fallback, the mayor opened his 2017 reelection campaign committee account just weeks into his first mayoral term. Campaign committee accounts are subject to caps and higher scrutiny ; therefore, the most minimal but most visible expenses get charged back to campaign committee accounts. For example, approximately $10,000 that Mr. de Blasio spent on the annual Inner Circle charity show was charged back to his reelection campaign committee account, The Wall Street Journal reported. For her part, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito updated her own 2017 campaign committee account, a phantom account for which nobody knows its true purpose, since the Council speaker is term limited in the City Council, and she has said that she will not run for mayor against her political patron. Her updated filing with the state's campaign finance regulatory authority, the state Board of Elections, still shows no expenditure to The Advance Group, in spite of its pivotal role in selecting Councilmember Mark-Viverito as this year's new Council speaker.
No word yet on whether any party committee accounts of the Democratic Party or the Working Families Party have had to make any disclosures of politically-motivated expenditures that tie back to the coordinated political activities of the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration.