Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pledge 2 Protect latest advocacy organization to hire The Advance Group, masking donors behind a law firm

Elected officials no longer listen to voters, unless a community forms a nonprofit organization and hires corrupt lobbyists in a scheme that cloaks the identity of donors

Exploiting a loophole in campaign finance laws, the small Manhattan law firm Marquart & Small is hiding the identity of donors funding the Pledge 2 Protect advocacy group

The community advocacy group, Pledge 2 Protect, which is nobly fighting the opening of a huge marine waste transfer station in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is flouting campaign finance laws to do it, Crain's New York Business reported today.

Pledge 2 Protect is using a law firm, Marquart & Small, to hide the identity of its big money donors. In two months of this year, those monies have been used to pay a small army of lobbyists and consultants :

  • $78,000 to The Advance Group, a lobbying firm that doubles as a campaign consulting firm headed by Scott Levenson, was involved in the astroturf group, NYC Is Not For Sale ;
  • $20,000 to The Black Institute, a nonprofit organization founded by former ACORN head Bertha Lewis ; The Black Institute shares office space with The Advance Group ;
  • $20,000 to Gladstein Neandross and Associates, an environmental consulting firm based in California ; and
  • $7,000 to Rubenstein Public Relations, which is also the official rep for New York Yankees baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez.

The fact that Pledge 2 Protect is skirting campaign finance laws calls to mind the controversies engulfing another noble-purposed group, NY-CLASS. NY-CLASS is a group seeking a ban of horse-drawn carriages in New York City. Last year, NY-CLASS was the primary force behind a Super PAC named NYC Is Not For Sale ; both NY-CLASS and NYC Is Not For Sale received campaign consulting and lobbying assistance from The Advance Group. The city's campaign finance regulatory authority, the Campaign Finance Board, has ruled that a forbidden pattern of coordination took place between the Super PAC and official campaigns also managed by The Advance Group, and The Advance Group is the subject of a complaint filed with federal prosecutors on the fourth anniversary of the corrupt Supreme Court decision in Citizens United over its electioneering work. Now that Pledge 2 Protect seems to be trying to skirt disclosure laws through gimmicks and tricks, how long before regulators or prosecutors crack down on the shady structure set up to pass-through campaign donations to benefit Pledge 2 Protect ?

Upon hearing news of Pledge 2 Protect's shadowy campaign finance structure, some of New York City's political bloggers lamented that elected officials refuse to listen to grassroots community demands. The only way elected officials seem to offer their ear is when dollar bills start exchanging hands with lobbyists with insider access to City Hall. Both The Advance Group and The Black Institute are headed by individuals with close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio. What does it mean when the only way to impact City Hall is to pay-off individuals with close ties to the mayor ? Community groups wouldn't need to hire lobbyists if the character of officials elected to public office embodied a true ethic of public service. Perhaps before hiring lobbyists and setting up structures to cloak the identity of big money donors, the many nonprofit groups in New York City should first band together to vote out of office any politician, who makes hiring lobbyists as a condition precedent before listening to community demands, followed by a strengthening of campaign finance laws to close all loopholes ?


East Side garbage foes hide behind loophole (Crain's New York Business)

Ongoing Levenson-Lewis-de Blasio political activities that may rise to be prohibited ? (YouTube)

Using political entities, operatives close to mayor exploit campaign finance regulations through ''pattern'' of activities (NYC : News & Analysis)

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