How a pro-de Blasio union funded an anti-Quinn group

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Anti-Quinn protesters. (via via flickr)
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One of Bill de Blasio's most supportive union backers helped bankroll a campaign opposing one-time front-runner Christine Quinn during the mayoral primary, according to union and campaign finance records.

Communications Workers of America, whose regional arm endorsed de Blasio early in the Democratic primary, poured more than $500,000 into the "Anybody But Quinn" effort, a campaign against the Council speaker that ran TV ads condemning her and staged protests against her candidacy throughout the year.

C.W.A. gave $507,200 to one of its member groups, C.W.A. Local 1180, on May 8, according to a copy of the organization's expenses on file with the U.S. Department of Labor. The purpose of the money is listed as "office administration."

The next day, the local union donated $507,000 to New York City Is Not For Sale, the group behind the Anybody but Quinn campaign. It was the single largest donation to the anti-Quinn group, which spent nearly $1.3 million, city campaign finance records show.

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The C.W.A. contribution raises questions because it qualifies an "independent expenditure," which is legal as long as the spenders do not coordinate with any candidate.

De Blasio's campaign on Tuesday said the campaign did not know one of his most loyal unions was driving the effort to take down his rival Quinn.

C.W.A. endorsed de Blasio on May 22, a time when when Quinn led the pack in polling and fund-raising and de Blasio's campaign was struggling to gain relevance.

At the time, the union's political director Bob Master, a longtime de Blasio ally, said the endorsement was an easy call.

"In truth, it was not a difficult decision," Master said. "We have always enjoyed a long and deep relationship with Bill."

Master declined to comment for this article.

Master is a co-chair of the Working Families Party, which de Blasio helped found in New York City.

C.W.A. granted the funds to 1180 at the behest of the local's president, Arthur Cheliotes. Local 1180 endorsed the unlikely candidacy of city Comptroller John Liu on May 21, despite the fact Liu's campaign was mired in a financial scandal that resulted in the convictions of his campaign treasurer and a top donor.

Cheliotes requested the money of the C.W.A.'s "Defense Fund Oversight Committee" at an April conference in Pittsburgh, according to a review of that meeting.

Its purpose was simply listed as "Local 1180 members in contract fight with NYC."

Cheliotes did not return a call for comment.

The push to oppose Quinn was also paid for by deep-pocketed animal-rights activists, angry over her refusal to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. De Blasio seized on the issue this year, promising to immediately retire the horses upon taking office.

Crains has reported that two of de Blasio's top donors contributed to that anti-Quinn group, which the Quinn campaign accused of being supportive of de Blasio, a charge the group denied.

The Anybody But Quinn effort targeted the speaker on paid-sick days and the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital, two issues where de Blasio made a concerted effort to highlight his differences with Quinn.

In an interview after the primary, Quinn's campaign manager, Josh Isay, said the spending from Anybody But Quinn group was "definitionally problematic" for her campaign.

"It was just negative information in the bloodstream," Isay told Capital. "She was the only candidate to have that kind of money spent directly against her. And yes they were poorly done, but they played to a narrative that was being built about her."

Crains has also reported that New York City Is Not For Sale accepted $320,000 over the legal campaign contribution limit. C.W.A.'s money was not bound by those caps, as unions are not limited in how much they can give toward an independent expenditure.

De Blasio, a critic of outside spending during his tenure as public advocate, said on Monday that he's not particularly concerned about the outside spending seen during this year's mayor's race.

UPDATE: After the publication of this story, Bob Master responded in an email: “The decision to spend these funds was made by the CWA’s national-level Defense Fund Oversight Committee, a rank and file-controlled body chaired by Arthur Cheliotes, the president of CWA Local 1180. While I personally opposed the decision to invest in this IE, I had no input into the committee’s deliberations and the decision was out of my control.”