4:00 pm Oct. 18, 2012
The New York City Campaign Finance Board said today that Mayor Michael Bloomberg "contravened the spirit of disclosure" underlying city campaign finance rules, even if he didn't violate the letter of the law, when he gave a personal donation of more than a million dollars to the New York State Independence Party but did not immediately report it as a campaign expenditure.
NYCCFB admitted the rules requiring disclosure in this specific scenario weren't in place at the time the money was sent and that they will therefore not assess a fine against the mayor's re-election campaign. In their 3-to-1 ruling, the NYCCFB commissioners also criticized the housekeeping committees political parties are allowed to maintain under state law.
Good-government advocate Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphanger's Campaign said "the appearance here is poor" for the mayor.
"Voters were left in the dark on more than a million dollars spent in the 2009 mayoral campaign," he said.
Bloomberg communications director Howard Wolfson, who also worked on the campaign, said in a statement, "We are pleased that the Board dismissed the complaint, and in doing so recognized that the Campaign committed no violation.”
When I asked Wolfson if "dismissed" was the appropriate description, since the NYCCFB said Bloomberg's campaign purposely violated the spirit of the rules by not disclosing the mayor's personal giving, Wolfson said, "dismissed is in fact the exact right word as that is precisely and explicitly what they did."
In their conclusion, the NYCCFB cited testimony from the trial of a former campaign aide, who convicted of grand larceny and money laundering, as evidence that Bloomberg campaign aides purpose went around the NYCCFB disclosure requirements.
"Indeed, the record before the Board makes clear that the Campaign, with a stated intent to conceal the funding of its $1.1 million ballot security operation by 'do[ing] it on the outside' moved to deprive the New York City electorate of the benefits of disclosure," they wrote, citing testimony from the trial of John
Bart Haggerty, who was running some Election Day activities for the Independence Party and getting direct instructions from Kevin Sheekey, a top Bloomberg campaign aide.
The NYCCFB was ruling on a complaint filed by perennial candidate Jerry Kann. The decision back in 2009 about making these payments public was in response to Bloomberg's 2009 Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, then the New York City comptroller, who was massively outspent by Bloomberg but finished within four percentage points of the mayor [clarified].
After Thompson filed his complaint against Bloomberg, the NYCCFB clarified their rules, requiring personal donations be reported as campaign expenditures, starting in January 2010.