Mayor Bill de Blasio is personally soliciting donations for his political action committee – reaping money from sources that include individuals seeking favorable treatment from his administration, an investigation by THE CITY found.
The revelations about de Blasio’s Fairness PAC – which he’s using, in part, to pay for travels exploring a presidential bid – followed the city Department of Investigation’s finding he broke city ethics rules in a previous fundraising campaign.
Mike Casca, a Fairness PAC spokesperson, confirmed the mayor is personally seeking donations for the group. Each donor’s name is run through the city’s database of entities doing business with City Hall, said Casca, adding the PAC won’t accept a check from anybody on the list.
But the so-called Doing Business database, which includes only top executives involved in certain transactions, is hardly complete.
A basic search of other databases – including the list of lobbyists – revealed multiple examples of donors who were pressing de Blasio’s team on active projects while writing checks to his PAC, THE CITY found.
Meanwhile, the mayor is working the phones.
His public schedule for August through December shows a total of 125 hours dedicated to fundraising phone calls. His “Call Time” included 38.5 hours in August, 25 hours in September and 38 hours in October. It’s unclear how much of this time was dedicated to Fairness PAC fundraising.
Casca said the “mayor voluntarily set out a strict standard” in declining donations from entities in the Doing Business database, and criticized the examples uncovered by THE CITY as overly broad.
But Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the government reform group Citizens Union, said the mayor and his Fairness PAC need to be more vigilant in assessing potential donors.
“They should be extremely careful not to ask anybody – or to double-check to make sure people are not – doing business or trying to get business with the city,” said Gotbaum, a former city public advocate. “[The mayor] should not be asking them.”
Transparency Issues on Conflicts Guidance
A DOI report filed in October concluded de Blasio had violated city conflict-of-interest rules by personally soliciting donations for his now-defunct non-profit Campaign for One New York from entities with business pending before the executive branch.
DOI found the mayor had twice been warned not to do that – and detailed his pursuit of checks from several developers who, at the time, were pursuing favorable treatment from City Hall.
With Campaign for One New York, the mayor released a letter he got from the city Conflicts of Interest Board spelling out the rules for his fundraising.
With Fairness PAC, the group’s lawyers sought unspecified “advice” from COIB, but Casca declined to provide details.
Casca said only that the PAC’s lawyers did not ask about fundraising because they believed that was covered by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Federal Election Commission. They “did seek other advice,” which he wouldn’t describe, and dubbed COIB’s guidance to the Fairness PAC as “privileged communications.”
THE CITY reported last week that Campaign for One New York is the subject of an ongoing Joint Commission on Public Ethics probe.
Questions on Vetting Process
A key finding of DOI’s report on de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York fundraising was the group’s failure to adequately check potential donors to see whether they had business with City Hall. In the first three months, during which de Blasio raised $1.37 million, DOI found there was no vetting process.
The vetting procedures for Fairness PAC, which raised $470,000 through the end of 2018, appear far from comprehensive.
THE CITY easily found multiple Fairness PAC donors who – at the same time they were writing checks for the mayor – had lobbyists on retainer pressing City Hall for agency approvals related to their projects, including zoning changes and tax breaks.
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