New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is the subject of a corruption probe which claims he has committed “willful and flagrant” violations of campaign finance law, and some reports indicate the investigations could bring down his administration.
Days after he called for “major reforms” of New York City’s Board of Elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been accused of “willful and flagrant” violations of campaign finance law in a report that chronicles a system of slush fund-style evasion of campaign donation limits.
The purported violations took place during the 2014 State Senate race, during which de Blasio helped fundraise for at least three upstate Democrats—all of whom lost their races. New York state campaign finance laws cap legal donations to candidates in such races at $10,300. However, donations ranging up to $103,000 can be made to county political committees, which may legally transfer unlimited funds to individual campaigns. The BOE report, which was submitted to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. in January and was published in full Friday by the Daily News, alleges that de Blasio’s political team knowingly and repeatedly manipulated these loopholes.
In the report, the Board of Election’s enforcement counsel Risa S. Sugarman alleged that de Blasio’s fundraising team deliberately sought donations larger than the permitted $10,300 limit, instructing donors to instead send checks to the Ulster County and Putnam County Democratic committees, as well as the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. Those committees then quickly transferred funds to the campaigns of Sen. Terry Gipson, Senate hopeful Justin Wagner, and Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, said Sugarman. As the News points out, large and influential unions including SEIU 1199 and the Communications Workers of America, in addition to wealthy businessmen like John Catsimatidis, made large 2014 donations to the county committees named above, despite having never done so in the past.
Once donations were made, the report describes a process of shuttling donation checks from local committees to Senatorial candidates, orchestrated by de Blasio aide Emma Wolfe, fund-raiser Ross Offinger, and the mayor’s own Campaign for One New York nonprofit. “The evidence demonstrates that the de Blasio team coordinated its fund-raising activities” alongside Gipson, Wagner, and Tkaczyk’s campaigns, and used the committees “in order to evade contribution limits and to disguise the true names of the contributors.” The report alleges that some checks made out to the statewide Senate Democratic Campaign Committee even included memos reading, “Donation per Mayor.”
“I have determined that reasonable cause exists to believe a violation warranting criminal prosecution has taken place,” Sugarman wrote. “The violations discovered by this investigation can only be described as willful and flagrant.”
New York Post columnist Fred Dicker writes that the investigation(s) spell de Blasio’s “imminent demise,” even to the point that Governor Andrew Cuomo has begun searching for a replacement.
“Gov. Cuomo has renewed his effort to recruit a challenger to Mayor de Blasio next year as the ‘smell of blood’’ from widening corruption probes has left de Blasio more vulnerable than ever,” Dicker wrote.
Another Post columnist, Michael Goodwin, was a little more blunt in saying that the mayor is “going down.”
Goodwin writes (HT Legal Insurrection):
There is no way to sugarcoat the facts: de Blasio is in trouble. Maybe very big trouble.
His City Hall is being depicted as the seat of a criminal enterprise. And so far, he offers nothing resembling a convincing denial.
As bad as it is, the election report covering the 2014 state Senate races is just the start. The endgame involves the more lethal issue of whether de Blasio sold government favors to donors. That is what federal prosecutors are looking for, and I believe they will find a mother lode.
Yet if the election report were all there is, it would still be a problem. It calls one of the campaign violations a possible felony and refers its findings to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. for prosecution. That explains why Vance recently partnered up with US Attorney Preet Bharara in the multipronged probe, effectively doubling the number of prosecutors and investigators.
De Blasio has been a top surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, nowhere was that more evident than with the recent primary in New York.