10:34 am Aug. 28, 2012
In a radio interview broadcast earlier this month at the end of his whirlwind three-day trip to Israel, Dan Halloran, the Republican city councilman who is running for an open congressional seat in Queens, told well-known Brooklyn radio host Zev Brenner that he would be among Israel’s strongest supporters in Washington.
“Welcome to the 21st century Jerusalem,” said Halloran. “Know that America will be with you, because certainly there are people like this back in the United States whose hearts, and souls and minds are pulling for you.”
This symbolically important, and electorally useful, bit of campaigning was an example of Halloran doing a lot with a little, effectively using outside resources to bolster his otherwise poorly funded election effort.
He was able to go to Israel, despite the fact that his congressional campaign was broke as of the end of June (with $6,500 more in debt than cash), thanks in part to help he received from an outside group in covering the costs of it.
Relatedly, Halloran has received campaign help at various times from three aides who are currently on the government payroll of another New York City Republican. Two of them continue to play a prominent role in Halloran's campaign.
Halloran, a practicing Theodist, had visited the holiest sites of the Holy City after his Israel credentials been questioned by his opponent, Democratic assemblywoman Grace Meng, because of his past support for Republican former presidential candidate Ron Paul. (Paul is frequently critical of the terms of America’s close alliance with Israel.)
Halloran’s trip got extensive positive coverage in the Jewish media.
During the same radio broadcast in which Halloran declared his devotion to Israel, Joseph Frager, the chairman of a conservative pro-Israel nonprofit called the World Committee for the Land of Israel, said of Halloran, “There will be no greater friend in Congress, so God willing he will be elected.”
Paul Brody, vice president of the World Committee, which is incorporated in Brooklyn, provided an indication during the same interview about how Halloran’s expensive trip had been paid for.
“Lately, we’ve been taking some candidates who we think are very helpful and want to learn about Israel by being here first-hand,” he said.
That’s not how Halloran’s campaign initially characterized things.
When I asked Halloran’s campaign spokesman who was paying for the trip, while the trip was ongoing, a campaign spokesman, Steven Stites, said in an email that Halloran had paid for it himself.
On Thursday, after being told about the contents of the radio interview, Stites said that Halloran had paid for a $2,000 plane ticket, but acknowledged that the nonprofit had paid to shuttle Halloran around Jerusalem, including to meetings with political leaders, which helped Halloran land at least five endorsements from Israeli political figures, including from the deputy speaker of the Knesset.
Halloran didn’t stay in Israeli motels on the trip, either. He and at least one unpaid campaign adviser, Asher Taub, stayed at the David Citadel, one of Jerusalem’s most luxurious hotels, which has housed everyone from Bill Clinton to Vladimir Putin—all paid for by the nonprofit, Halloran’s campaign confirmed.
Taub, who says he accompanied Halloran in part to speak Hebrew at the candidate’s meetings with Israeli political leaders, acknowledged that his trip was entirely funded by the World Committee.
In a follow-up statement, Stites said there was nothing wrong with the nonprofit paying for portions of a trip with electoral implications, calling it a “very common and legal practice,” and pointing out that Grace Meng took such a trip to Israel in 2010.
Meng’s trip was paid for by the Jewish Community Relations Council, after her re-election to the Assembly and long before her congressional campaign. The group did not specifically express support for her.
(Some nonprofits are allowed to engage in political activity as long as their “primary activity” is the “promotion of social welfare.” They can't make endorsements.)
In a statement, Meng’s campaign spokesman Austin Finan said, "It bears repeating that Dan Halloran chose to visit Israel at the height of his Congressional campaign, probably because it would have otherwise interfered with his vigorous campaigning on behalf of Congressman Ron Paul. Grace Meng's support for Israel is longstanding, having visited the country years ago as a member of the Assembly.”
Halloran’s trip took place in a campaign-season context and was partly paid for by a group that is clearly supporting him. But the chairman of the World Committee for the Land of Israel, Rabbi David Algaze, said that the purpose of Halloran’s trip was not political.
"This was an educational trip,” Algaze said. “Are you a lawyer? We're an educational group. I don't make endorsements in any way, shape or form."
Algaze said he was not sure whether the organization was a strictly apolitical 501(c)3 organization, or a more issue-oriented 501(c)4, and said that his group was still applying for tax-exempt status with the I.R.S.
The trip isn’t Halloran’s only campaign-related expense with connections to external sources.
He was accompanied on the trip by State Senator David Storobin, a recently elected Republican with whom Halloran is friendly, and who was roundly mocked by the New York media after the trip for being photographed on the Syrian border dressed up in Israeli army fatigues and holding an assault weapon.
In that picture, Storobin’s chief of staff Paul Gullo stood his left, seemingly poised to cause an international incident by unloading a few rounds across the Syrian border.
Stites, who is also a spokesman for Storobin, claimed that the candidate’s uniform and weapon had been required.
An Israeli Army official later told Capital New York that the dress-up had been entirely voluntary, and that it was virtually never done.
That wasn’t the only role Gullo played during the trip, at least according to his own statement on Brenner’s radio show.
“I’m Paul Gullo, I’m Dan Halloran’s campaign manager,” Gullo said, when asked to introduce himself. “I joined him here on the trip to Israel and had a magnificent time.”
In early August, not long before the trip to Israel during which he identified himself as Halloran’s campaign manager, Gullo had joined Storobin’s governmental office as the $105,000-a-year chief of staff, according to Senate payroll records.
Disputing Gullo’s own statement, Stites said that Gullo, a full-time governmental employee, had merely represented himself that way as a matter of convenience on the trip, and was now merely an adviser to Halloran. No new campaign manager has been hired as of yet, but Stites said the campaign was likely to hire a new one soon. He also said Gullo had paid for the trip in full out of his own pocket.
Gullo is actually only one of three staffers from the cash-poor Halloran campaign who joined Storobin’s governmental payroll a month ago, according to Senate payroll records.
In mid-June Halloran’s campaign paid $2,000 for Gullo, a Rochester political consultant, to move to New York City. As of late June, Gullo was owed $8,500 by Halloran’s campaign.
Another Rochester consultant, Dave Sieling, was also moved to New York City by Halloran’s campaign in mid-June, records show, but was owed $4,000 by Halloran’s campaign for “grassroots consulting” as of the end of June.
In early August, Sieling became Storobin’s $48,000 governmental director of district office operations, while Stites, Halloran’s campaign spokesman, who had previously also worked part-time in Halloran’s governmental office, moved over to earn a full-time salary of $50,000 as Storobin’s deputy chief of staff, while serving as both the Halloran and Storobin campaign spokesman.
“Paul was the campaign manager,” Stites added. “He left that role recently. Today, he is an adviser to the campaign. Dave was a field operative for the campaign. He no longer has any role with Dan's campaign.”
Stites also said, “Some level of turnover is healthy and normal in anything, whether it's a campaign or a business.”