Did Mayor di Blasio Manipulate Laws Related to Campaign Finance Limits in Effort to Return State Senate to Democratic Control???
April 23, 2016
Crains New York Business:
“Federal investigators are focusing on donations made to a state campaign committee in 2014 at the behest of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor was attempting to shift control of the state Senate to Democrats, who would be more amenable to his progressive agenda in New York City.
At the heart of the investigation is a ban on contributions to a state campaign committee if they are earmarked for a particular candidate, according to a report in The New York Times. And in this case, the push by the mayor was focused on two Democratic hopefuls: Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner.
The probe by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is part of a multipronged investigation into campaign activities that also involve Campaign for One New York, a controversial nonprofit that advocated for causes close to the mayor and raised money. Many real estate interests gave to that campaign around the same time they had business before the city.”
The New York Times:
“During most election cycles, Putnam County, N.Y., is a sleepy backwater, with few donations of more than $1,000 coming into the local Democratic committee in the decade beginning in 2004.
But 2014 was different. Amid an aggressive push by Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City to wrangle donors to help secure Democratic control of the State Senate, a flood of large contributions started pouring into the Putnam committee and at least two other county committees.
Over two weeks in October that year, the Putnam committee received 16 donations, totaling $547,300, from labor unions, real estate interests and individuals including the grocery store magnate John A. Catsimatidis. The money then went to two Democratic candidates in tight Senate races, Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner, who would have been barred by state election law from collecting such large sums directly.
Now those donations, solicited in part by the mayor’s campaign apparatus, are under scrutiny as part of a multipronged criminal investigation being conducted by federal and state authorities, several people briefed on the matter have said.
The inquiry into the 2014 donations is based on a state ban on contributions to a party committee if they are given or solicited for a particular candidate, with an intent to evade individual contribution limits. Party committees can receive contributions of up to $102,300, far more than the $11,000 general-election maximum from individuals directly to for State Senate candidates. And the committees are not restricted in how much they can transfer to candidates.
It appears that prosecutors have never made a criminal case under this section of state election law, a violation of which would be a felony: Records going back to 1999 show no arrests or arraignments on the charge, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Nonetheless, what prosecutors investigating the State Senate fund-raising effort appear to be seeking, in subpoenas issued this week by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, is evidence of a scheme to use the county committees to illegally redistribute contributions to candidates favored by Mr. de Blasio.
There seemed to be little question where the money sent to county committees should ultimately end up, officials with the committees said.
“We were told, before we got it, how it was going to be used,” said Louis Epstein, the first vice chairman of the Democratic committee in Putnam County, a far-northern suburb of New York City. A similar message was received in Monroe County, where an incumbent state senator, Ted O’Brien, faced a tough re-election in Rochester.
“Generally what happened was somebody said we have a donor who would like to help Ted,” said Dave Garretson, chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Committee at the time. “They would like to make a contribution to the county committee where the contribution limit is higher.”
Mr. Garretson said that he had made it clear he could not promise how the money would be spent, and that there were never “any conversations with donors where there was a wink-wink arrangement.” He and Mr. Epstein also said that their committees sought advice to ensure that their handling of the money was proper, adding that they did not deal directly with donors.”