Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/campaign-finance 2017-10-23T16:47:43+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Vance Fallout Echoes Other Controversies that Led to Reforms 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7265:vance-fallout-echoes-other-controversies-that-led-to-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/comptroller-dinapoli-with-check-nyscomptroller.jpg" alt="comptroller dinapoli with check nyscomptroller" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (@NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>As the office and campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reexamine internal policies regarding the acceptance of campaign contributions, they may want to reference the guidebook of the office of the State Comptroller or Attorney General, both of which have implemented their own donor-vetting systems and guidelines in the wake of controversies involving fundraising practices. These checks far exceed what is required by <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7252-vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lax and porous state campaign finance laws</a>.</p> <p>District Attorney Vance, facing immense pressure over his handling of a sexual misconduct case against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and of a fraud investigation into Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, announced Sunday in a New York Daily News op-ed that he had enlisted the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School to review and recommend restrictions on his campaign finance practices, especially with regard to contributions from defense lawyers with business before the district attorney’s office.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the column</a>, Vance said he hoped that CAPI would “recommend that we go well beyond what is currently required by laws that govern contributions to district attorneys in our state,” adding that “this is one of the first reviews of its kind ever undertaken in the realm of prosecutors’ offices, and the firestorm we have experienced over the past week presents an opportunity for real reform.”</p> <p>The response to reports that Vance had accepted large campaign contributions from lawyers affiliated with the Trumps and Weinstein, before and after each case was closed, recalls another flare up involving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, during his $40 million lawsuit against Trump University, which started in 2011 and spanned about six years, though the office does abide by internally enforced campaign finance guidelines.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s office came under scrutiny for his campaign’s acceptance and alleged solicitation of funds from members of the Trump family while engaged in litigation against the university, which was widely seen as a scam. Trump has given $12,500 to help get Schneiderman elected as attorney general, and Ivanka Trump reportedly gave $500 to Schneiderman’s campaign in 2012. Trump aides <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/08/24/attorney-general-schneiderman-hit-up-trump-for-donations-while-probing-his-school/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> the mogul was told Schneiderman’s campaign solicited contributions from Ivanka offering to make the “very weak” ongoing investigation “go away,” and filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), though the ethics advisory organization decided not pursue the case.</p> <p>It would not be not the first time Trump was accused of attempting to buy his way out of the legal mess <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-the-scandal-that-wont-go-away" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surrounding Trump University</a>. In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was up for reelection, reportedly solicited Trump for donations while acknowledging that she was considering joining Schneiderman in his Trump University suit, but <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/despite-controversy-floridas-ag-accepts-role-trump-panel" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decided not to pursue</a> the case after the mogul made a $25,000 donation to an organization, called And Justice for All, that was backing her campaign. Trump was fined by the Internal Revenue Service, not for the obvious pay-to-play element -- which is legal -- but for making the political contribution from his foundation rather than his personal bank account.</p> <p>Trump settled the Trump University suit, including paying $25 million to individuals who had enrolled in the school, and Schneiderman has continued to pursue cases against Trump, a fact that his representatives cite as evidence that the attorney general is not influenced by donors to his campaign.</p> <p>Even prior to his ongoing battles with Trump, Schneiderman adhered to the policies of his two most recent predecessors by refusing to accept contributions from individuals or entities who have a matter before the office or have had such within the prior 90 days, according to a spokesperson for his office.</p> <p>Furthermore, “every contributor who is personally solicited is subject to an extensive vetting process, and the office has both returned and refused to accept contributions from individuals and attorneys who have had matters before this office,” said Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the attorney general, in a statement.</p> <p>The policy was tweaked after JCOPE put out <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/advice/jcope/2016/AO%2016-02%20FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an advisory opinion</a> last year expanding this ban to one year for matters in which the attorney general was personally and substantially involved or for contributions that were personally solicited. </p> <p>The ethics advisory commission, which has jurisdiction over state officials and lobbyists, also ruled that directly soliciting and knowingly accepting contributions from the active subject of investigations and enforcement proceedings violates Public Officers Law 74. Other conduct, such as directly soliciting from an attorney that is appearing before the office, would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure.</p> <p>County-level prosecutors like district attorneys, of which there are 62 across the state, are not under the purview of JCOPE. The city’s Conflict of Interest Board does not deal with conflicts related to campaign finance, and neither the city’s Campaign Finance Board nor the state’s Office of Court Administration, which supervises the conduct of judicial candidates, have power over district attorneys, leaving these law enforcement officials a rare level of latitude and impunity.</p> <p>The massive pay-to-play scandal involving former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi similarly resulted in self-imposed reforms for that office. In 2011, Hevesi -- who had resigned four years earlier as part of a plea bargain for an unrelated scandal -- admitted to accepting $1 million in gifts for himself and friends in exchange for offering "preferential treatment" and $250 million in state pension investments to Markstone Capital, which was owned by Elliott Broidy. Broidy, in turn, gave $500,000 to Hevesi’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>Following his election in 2007, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli enacted a series of reforms, including an executive order and interim policy that banned pay-to-play practices, which went into effect in 2009.</p> <p>The order prohibited the state pension fund from doing business with any investment adviser who made a political contribution to the state comptroller or a candidate for state comptroller, and applied for two years from the date of the contribution. The regulations were put in place ahead of <a href="https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-116.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2010 rules</a> issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which they closely parallel.</p> <p>“The point was to ban the practice without waiting for the SEC rule, which was then in the proposal stage. The SEC rule went into force in 2011, at which point it became the law of the land and superseded or obviated the Comptroller's executive order,” said DiNapoli spokesperson Matthew Sweeney.</p> <p>Recommendations from the CAPI review of Vance’s practices are due in January. Meanwhile, at least two Democratic Assembly members have proposed bills that would significantly curb contributions to district attorneys.</p> <p>One <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5841/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> was sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Abinanti in February and calls for publicly-financed elections of district attorneys and State Supreme Court justices. It has a handful of co-sponsors, but it never went anywhere. </p> <p>"As an attorney, I've always been troubled by a system where judges are elected on the basis of money of people who appear before them,” said Abinanti, who represents Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. “It's just unseemly.”</p> <p>More importantly, Abinanti said, for prosecutors, who are law enforcement officials, publicly-finance elections would enable them to more honestly express their views on issues like drug policy, immigration, and bail reform, at pre-election forums and debates.</p> <p>The issue arose in the recent Democratic primary for Brooklyn District Attorney, when Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was criticized for accepting money from the bail bond industry.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">expected</a> to be introduced in January by Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan, would compile a statewide database of criminal defense attorneys and firms and steeply reduces the amount these individuals and entities can contribute to a district attorney candidate's campaign (up to $320 per election cycle). It also would prevent the bundling of donations to district attorney candidates.</p> <p>“It would create greater transparency and limit the influence of criminal defense attorneys,” said Quart, who noted that the system was based on the “NYC Doing Business” database. Entities listed on the database are greatly restricted by the city’s campaign finance system in what campaign donations they can give to candidates for city offices.</p> <p>Though the New York State Assembly’s Democratic majority conference convened for several hours on Tuesday in Albany, a legislative response to questions raised by the Vance controversy was not discussed, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>“I understand where people are coming from,” said Heastie of the public outrage. “We didn’t get a chance to talk about that, I don’t want to just make a decision without talking to members of our conference, but we are always open to election reforms that will give the confidence to our constituents that there are no inherent conflicts.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/comptroller-dinapoli-with-check-nyscomptroller.jpg" alt="comptroller dinapoli with check nyscomptroller" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (@NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>As the office and campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reexamine internal policies regarding the acceptance of campaign contributions, they may want to reference the guidebook of the office of the State Comptroller or Attorney General, both of which have implemented their own donor-vetting systems and guidelines in the wake of controversies involving fundraising practices. These checks far exceed what is required by <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7252-vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lax and porous state campaign finance laws</a>.</p> <p>District Attorney Vance, facing immense pressure over his handling of a sexual misconduct case against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and of a fraud investigation into Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, announced Sunday in a New York Daily News op-ed that he had enlisted the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School to review and recommend restrictions on his campaign finance practices, especially with regard to contributions from defense lawyers with business before the district attorney’s office.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the column</a>, Vance said he hoped that CAPI would “recommend that we go well beyond what is currently required by laws that govern contributions to district attorneys in our state,” adding that “this is one of the first reviews of its kind ever undertaken in the realm of prosecutors’ offices, and the firestorm we have experienced over the past week presents an opportunity for real reform.”</p> <p>The response to reports that Vance had accepted large campaign contributions from lawyers affiliated with the Trumps and Weinstein, before and after each case was closed, recalls another flare up involving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, during his $40 million lawsuit against Trump University, which started in 2011 and spanned about six years, though the office does abide by internally enforced campaign finance guidelines.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s office came under scrutiny for his campaign’s acceptance and alleged solicitation of funds from members of the Trump family while engaged in litigation against the university, which was widely seen as a scam. Trump has given $12,500 to help get Schneiderman elected as attorney general, and Ivanka Trump reportedly gave $500 to Schneiderman’s campaign in 2012. Trump aides <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/08/24/attorney-general-schneiderman-hit-up-trump-for-donations-while-probing-his-school/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> the mogul was told Schneiderman’s campaign solicited contributions from Ivanka offering to make the “very weak” ongoing investigation “go away,” and filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), though the ethics advisory organization decided not pursue the case.</p> <p>It would not be not the first time Trump was accused of attempting to buy his way out of the legal mess <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-the-scandal-that-wont-go-away" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surrounding Trump University</a>. In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was up for reelection, reportedly solicited Trump for donations while acknowledging that she was considering joining Schneiderman in his Trump University suit, but <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/despite-controversy-floridas-ag-accepts-role-trump-panel" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decided not to pursue</a> the case after the mogul made a $25,000 donation to an organization, called And Justice for All, that was backing her campaign. Trump was fined by the Internal Revenue Service, not for the obvious pay-to-play element -- which is legal -- but for making the political contribution from his foundation rather than his personal bank account.</p> <p>Trump settled the Trump University suit, including paying $25 million to individuals who had enrolled in the school, and Schneiderman has continued to pursue cases against Trump, a fact that his representatives cite as evidence that the attorney general is not influenced by donors to his campaign.</p> <p>Even prior to his ongoing battles with Trump, Schneiderman adhered to the policies of his two most recent predecessors by refusing to accept contributions from individuals or entities who have a matter before the office or have had such within the prior 90 days, according to a spokesperson for his office.</p> <p>Furthermore, “every contributor who is personally solicited is subject to an extensive vetting process, and the office has both returned and refused to accept contributions from individuals and attorneys who have had matters before this office,” said Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the attorney general, in a statement.</p> <p>The policy was tweaked after JCOPE put out <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/advice/jcope/2016/AO%2016-02%20FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an advisory opinion</a> last year expanding this ban to one year for matters in which the attorney general was personally and substantially involved or for contributions that were personally solicited. </p> <p>The ethics advisory commission, which has jurisdiction over state officials and lobbyists, also ruled that directly soliciting and knowingly accepting contributions from the active subject of investigations and enforcement proceedings violates Public Officers Law 74. Other conduct, such as directly soliciting from an attorney that is appearing before the office, would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure.</p> <p>County-level prosecutors like district attorneys, of which there are 62 across the state, are not under the purview of JCOPE. The city’s Conflict of Interest Board does not deal with conflicts related to campaign finance, and neither the city’s Campaign Finance Board nor the state’s Office of Court Administration, which supervises the conduct of judicial candidates, have power over district attorneys, leaving these law enforcement officials a rare level of latitude and impunity.</p> <p>The massive pay-to-play scandal involving former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi similarly resulted in self-imposed reforms for that office. In 2011, Hevesi -- who had resigned four years earlier as part of a plea bargain for an unrelated scandal -- admitted to accepting $1 million in gifts for himself and friends in exchange for offering "preferential treatment" and $250 million in state pension investments to Markstone Capital, which was owned by Elliott Broidy. Broidy, in turn, gave $500,000 to Hevesi’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>Following his election in 2007, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli enacted a series of reforms, including an executive order and interim policy that banned pay-to-play practices, which went into effect in 2009.</p> <p>The order prohibited the state pension fund from doing business with any investment adviser who made a political contribution to the state comptroller or a candidate for state comptroller, and applied for two years from the date of the contribution. The regulations were put in place ahead of <a href="https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-116.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2010 rules</a> issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which they closely parallel.</p> <p>“The point was to ban the practice without waiting for the SEC rule, which was then in the proposal stage. The SEC rule went into force in 2011, at which point it became the law of the land and superseded or obviated the Comptroller's executive order,” said DiNapoli spokesperson Matthew Sweeney.</p> <p>Recommendations from the CAPI review of Vance’s practices are due in January. Meanwhile, at least two Democratic Assembly members have proposed bills that would significantly curb contributions to district attorneys.</p> <p>One <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5841/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> was sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Abinanti in February and calls for publicly-financed elections of district attorneys and State Supreme Court justices. It has a handful of co-sponsors, but it never went anywhere. </p> <p>"As an attorney, I've always been troubled by a system where judges are elected on the basis of money of people who appear before them,” said Abinanti, who represents Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. “It's just unseemly.”</p> <p>More importantly, Abinanti said, for prosecutors, who are law enforcement officials, publicly-finance elections would enable them to more honestly express their views on issues like drug policy, immigration, and bail reform, at pre-election forums and debates.</p> <p>The issue arose in the recent Democratic primary for Brooklyn District Attorney, when Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was criticized for accepting money from the bail bond industry.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">expected</a> to be introduced in January by Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan, would compile a statewide database of criminal defense attorneys and firms and steeply reduces the amount these individuals and entities can contribute to a district attorney candidate's campaign (up to $320 per election cycle). It also would prevent the bundling of donations to district attorney candidates.</p> <p>“It would create greater transparency and limit the influence of criminal defense attorneys,” said Quart, who noted that the system was based on the “NYC Doing Business” database. Entities listed on the database are greatly restricted by the city’s campaign finance system in what campaign donations they can give to candidates for city offices.</p> <p>Though the New York State Assembly’s Democratic majority conference convened for several hours on Tuesday in Albany, a legislative response to questions raised by the Vance controversy was not discussed, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>“I understand where people are coming from,” said Heastie of the public outrage. “We didn’t get a chance to talk about that, I don’t want to just make a decision without talking to members of our conference, but we are always open to election reforms that will give the confidence to our constituents that there are no inherent conflicts.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Vance Controversy Spotlights Lax Campaign Finance Rules for District Attorneys 2017-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7252:vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cy_vance_crop_manhattan_da.jpg" alt="cy vance crop manhattan da" width="600" height="331" /></p> <p>Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family in a 2012, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties.</p> <p>While it is not illegal - or uncommon - for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to the state’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of age-old questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.</p> <p>District attorneys, through their election campaigns -- which are not bound by New York City’s strict fundraising and spending limits -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars from a single donor, including lawyers, regardless of whether the attorney has business before the office. Government reform advocates, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, say there are systemic issues at play and are calling for campaign finance reform, including a serious look at public financing for all state-level officials. Some say district attorney candidates should be subject to the same fundraising restrictions as judicial candidates to prevent real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest.</p> <p>Currently, candidates for district attorney operate in one of the many largely unseen areas of state campaign finance law and enforcement, with minimal rules and almost no oversight. District attorney campaigns file disclosures through the state Board of Elections, but there is little evidence that those filings are examined closely -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7058-rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an apparently statewide issue</a> wherein regulators pay scant attention to campaigns for local offices.</p> <p>Recent reporting from The New Yorker, ProPublica, and WNYC radio, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-ivanka-trump-and-donald-trump-jr-avoided-a-criminal-indictment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outlined</a> how Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz -- a longtime donor to Vance’s election campaigns -- met with the district attorney before he shut down an investigation into how Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were marketing a new Trump condominium development, Trump SoHo, despite evidence compiled by his own prosecutors that the siblings may have deliberately misled investors. E-mails described by the three news outlets make clear that the Trumps “were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.”</p> <p>A $25,000 donation made by Kasowitz in early 2012 was returned by Vance’s campaign prior to his May meeting with the district attorney (“standard practice” when a donor has matters before the prosecutor’s office, Vance told The New Yorker), but records show Kasowitz made an even larger donation, of $31,993, to Vance in January 2013, that less than six months after the case was abandoned (after this reporting, Vance said he would be returning that money, too).</p> <p>Similarly, a narrow timeline can be traced between payments from two law firms representing Weinstein, made before and after he was let off the hook for allegedly groping an Italian model in his TriBeCa office, despite an audio recording, made in conjunction with the NYPD, of the movie producer apparently admitting to the incident and apologizing. The lawyer who represented Weinstein in the case, Elkan Abramowitz, is a partner in the firm where Vance previously worked and had contributed $26,550 to Vance’s campaign over the years, including $2,100 after the case was dismissed, as <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/12/weinsteins-lawyer-gave-thousands-to-vance-after-da-let-client-off-hook/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the New York Post. In addition, Abramowitz’s firm, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello &amp; Bohre, donated $11,500 to Vance’s election fund, according to state campaign finance records.</p> <p>Another $10,000 contribution came from attorney David Boies -- who has represented Weinstein in past high-profile cases, though none involving Vance -- after the investigation was dropped in April 2015, as <a href="http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/harvey-weinsteins-lawyer-gave-10000-manhattan-da-after-he-declined-file-sexual" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the International Business Times.</p> <p>Vance maintains that he decided each case based on its merits and denies that donations made by lawyers of his clients influenced his decisions. In the face of intense media scrutiny, he has emphasized that it is common for prosecutors to accept campaign donations from lawyers. “No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” Vance <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/cy-vance-defends-weinstein-decision.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> last week.</p> <p>The recent criticism over Vance’s handling of the two investigations has demonstrated how the state’s current campaign finance system can easily lead to situations that sow doubt about the credibility of New York’s top prosecutors. As county-level elected officials, district attorneys across the state, including in New York City, are governed by state law, including in their campaign activities. Therefore, the city’s five district attorneys are not subject to the city’s campaign finance system for municipal offices, which includes much more strict limitations than currently exists in state law, where little exists to limit or enforce district attorney campaign fundraising.</p> <p>Government reform advocates say these Vance cases highlight the need for public financing of all campaigns, but in particular for prosecutors and judges, who receive the bulk of their campaign contributions from lawyers and legal firms.</p> <p>“People rely on the legal system to be a fair and for [judges and prosecutors] to follow the law -- not to play favorites,” said Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group. “The campaign finance system creates an inherent conflict of interest. That’s why we’ve always argued for all races -- but certainly district attorneys and judges -- to be publically financed.”</p> <p>Due to <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/rethinking-judicial-selection-state-courts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing concerns</a> over the real or perceived influence of special interests in judicial races since the 1990s, judicial candidates are now bound by fundraising guidelines, dictated by New York State Bar Association and other ethics oversight bodies, and enforced by the Office of Court Administration. However, there are no such rules for district attorneys, of which there are 62, one in each county of the state, and the Office of Court Administration has no jurisdiction over district attorneys, according to a spokesperson for the agency.&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary ethics blueprint for prosecutors, published by the New York State District Attorneys Association, <a href="http://www.daasny.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Ethics-Handbook.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">titled</a> “The Right Thing: ethical guidelines for prosecutors,” specifies that district attorneys should avoid certain political activities, such as making others aware of their presence at political events, but makes no mention of campaign finance rules. Campaign finance is also absent from a sparse section of the New York State Bar’s “rules of professional conduct” <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/rules/jointappellate/ny-rules-prof-conduct-1200.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">handbook</a> that pertains to “prosecutors and other government lawyers.”</p> <p>By contrast, the <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook</a>, citing an opinion from the New York State Bar Association, specifies that a judge’s campaign committee “may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the judge, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the judge.”</p> <p>Judicial candidates are also instructed to avoid contributions from a party that may “reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected,” or one who has come before the candidate “so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety.” Furthermore, judicial candidates are prohibited from even looking at who contributed to their campaigns and must leave the room at fundraisers when a plea for contributions is made.</p> <p>The judicial guidelines were implemented so that judges would conduct themselves in ways that “maintain public confidence in the judiciary,” according to the handbook. It may be reasonable for prosecutors, who like judges are elected and entrusted by the public to uphold the law, to be held to a similar set of standards.</p> <p>District attorneys in the five boroughs are also not subject to New York City’s strict campaign contribution limits, which set, for example, an individual donation limit of $4,950 per cycle to a mayoral candidate, and much less so for those on the “doing business” list of entities with city business.</p> <p>According to state regulations, an individual can contribute around $34,000 to a Manhattan district attorney’s campaign (the formula caps donations at the total number of active voters in the candidate's party in the district multiplied by $0.05). There are more than 681,000 active registered Democrats in New York County, also known as Manhattan, as of April 2017. But, due to the state’s porous campaign finance rules, contributors can easily circumvent even <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these limits</a>, by donating through a company or spouse, or by creating multiple limited liability corporations, each of which it permitted to contribute up to $5,000 to county-level candidates.</p> <p><strong>A Turning Point</strong> <br />Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards young actresses has frequently been described as an “open secret” in Hollywood circles, but <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bombshell New York Times report</a> last week detailed decades of sexual harassment complaints levied against the producer, as well as secret payouts to scuttle potential law enforcement complaints, involving actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd.</p> <p>Days later, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a piece in The New Yorker</a> detailed further allegations, including several women who said they were raped by Weinstein, and embedded an NYPD recording of the mogul seemingly admitting to the Italian model, Ambra Battilana -- who was wearing a police wire -- that he had groped her breasts the day before. Vance’s office, charged with investigating the forcible touching incident, ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. Since the story was published, allegations about the producer have piled up, with numerous high-profile actresses -- including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale -- and other lesser-known actresses adding their voices to the chorus women claiming they were victimized by Weinstein.</p> <p>The public backlash to the reports has been fierce, with many calling for Vance to resign and the National Organization of Women <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171013/civic-center/now-harvey-weinstein-cy-vance-sexual-harassment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demanding</a> a “full accounting” of his decision in the Weinstein case. A steady stream of New York elected officials have denounced Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor, and announced that they would return or give to charity donations he made to their election campaigns. And with Donald Trump and his family rising to power, many are questioning whether immunity from criminal charges is at least in part dependent upon campaign donations.</p> <p>Defendings its decision last week, Vance’s office released <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a> that while the behavior alleged in recent reports about Weinstein “shocks the conscience,” at the time, the recording did not provide sufficient evidence to prosecute.</p> <p>“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct in 2015, we would have,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo, in <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>. “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD - without our knowledge or input - arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein...While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”</p> <p>In subsequent days, given the new reports, Vance’s office confirmed it was working with the NYPD to investigate allegations against Weinstein.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Vance has been cruising unchallenged toward reelection this fall. Yet, over the last four years his campaign has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, with funds coming mostly from lawyers and law firms, and has nearly $1 million left in the bank. In July, he raised $322,832.12, mostly from lawyers, and spent $358,061.43, leaving him with $1,305,989.18 in the bank, according to his filings with the State Board of Elections. Since the Democratic primary in September, he raised $18,400 and spent $399,084.31, leaving him with $925,333.49, according to his 32-day pre-general election <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=C36419&amp;rdate_in=06-OCT-2017&amp;reportid_in=D&amp;eyear_in=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">filings</a>.</p> <p>The newfound scrutiny of Vance’s campaign finances has placed him in a sticky situation, one that some say could be avoided with new limits on district attorney campaigns, public funding of campaigns for state-level offices, or both. Vance is also now facing at least two campaigns for write-in challengers to unseat him through the November vote, where only his name will appear on the ballot.</p> <p>Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who was recently investigated by Vance’s office himself, with no charges filed -- maintain that it is important to trust the system and that prosecutors are acting in good faith, and lawyers and prosecutors who have interacted with Vance told Gotham Gazette that he has a reputation as a “straight shooter.” However, experts on judicial conduct say that even those with the best intentions may overestimate their own immunity to bias.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of literature out there on unconscious and unintentional bias with respect to financial conflicts of interest,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The long and the short of it is that people are often poor judges of how they are influenced by financial conflicts of interest, and often take actions that seem unbiased to themselves, but will have the appearance of corruption to outsiders.”</p> <p>Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March and is known for efforts to weed out corruption on Wall Street and in state government, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Vance on Friday.</p> <p>“It's time that candidates for local District Attorney just say no to campaign donations from criminal defense lawyers,” Bharara <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/918692649158053888" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweeted</a>, later adding that there should only be public financing for district attorney candidates.</p> <p>While public financing may be ideal, and is perhaps the “cleanest” way to prevent many conflicts, there may also be legal precedent for the passage of state law prohibiting who can contribute to a district attorney’s campaign, according to Horner.</p> <p>“You’ve got to be careful how you develop a law that restricts donations, because there are First Amendment issues that come up, but I think it can be done,” said Horner, noting about half the states in the country have some restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions.</p> <p>“It’s a clumsy process and someone has to enforce it,” he added, noting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ethics advisory board that currently only has jurisdiction over lobbyists and state-level officials, could be incorporated through legislation.</p> <p>News came on Monday morning that Manhattan Assemblymember Dan Quart <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plans to introduce a bill</a> to drastically reform how district attorney campaigns are governed in terms of who they can take donations from and what the caps on those donations would be, as reported by The Daily News.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Vance emphasized to reporters that his fundraising standards were legal, and said that he had a “very sound vetting system.” But he acknowledged, in the wake of the controversies, he would be open to reexamining those practices.</p> <p>“It obviously calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle the matter going forward," he said. "So, in answer, it’s absolutely legal, but [campaign donations] should be re-examined, office by office.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign declined to elaborate on these adjustments when Gotham Gazette inquired.</p> <p>On Sunday, Vance published <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Daily News op-ed</a> in which he defended himself and announced that there will be an independent review of how his campaign has handled contributions, leading to recommendations for future operations, in order “to help us radically reduce the appearance of influence of money in our work.” Vance promised higher standards than required, writing, “notwithstanding New York’s lax campaign finance laws and sky-high contribution limits, I’m prepared to dramatically restrict who can donate money to our campaign — including lawyers — and the amounts that our contributors are able to give.”</p> <p>In the op-ed, Vance said <a href="http://www.law.columbia.edu/public-integrity/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity</a> at Columbia Law School would run the review of his campaign fundraising and larger campaign fundraising practices by district attorneys. The Center is run by Jennifer Rodgers, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who in a Friday interview with Gotham Gazette said she was not familiar with all the details of the situation, but defended Vance’s character and criticized the larger campaign finance system he’s operating within.</p> <p>“It’s very easy after the fact to second guess whether he made the right decision,” Rodgers said, adding that “reasonable people can differ” on whether certain cases may brought, but that she hadn’t seen anything to make her think Vance did anything inappropriate. “He always struck me as a straight guy,” she said, “and I don’t think that this notion that he’s dirty and is somehow on the payroll is valid.”</p> <p>Now, it will be up to Rodgers and CAPI to make recommendations to Vance that will undoubtedly reverberate to a much wider audience. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Vance wrote</a>, “I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue. Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cy_vance_crop_manhattan_da.jpg" alt="cy vance crop manhattan da" width="600" height="331" /></p> <p>Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family in a 2012, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties.</p> <p>While it is not illegal - or uncommon - for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to the state’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of age-old questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.</p> <p>District attorneys, through their election campaigns -- which are not bound by New York City’s strict fundraising and spending limits -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars from a single donor, including lawyers, regardless of whether the attorney has business before the office. Government reform advocates, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, say there are systemic issues at play and are calling for campaign finance reform, including a serious look at public financing for all state-level officials. Some say district attorney candidates should be subject to the same fundraising restrictions as judicial candidates to prevent real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest.</p> <p>Currently, candidates for district attorney operate in one of the many largely unseen areas of state campaign finance law and enforcement, with minimal rules and almost no oversight. District attorney campaigns file disclosures through the state Board of Elections, but there is little evidence that those filings are examined closely -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7058-rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an apparently statewide issue</a> wherein regulators pay scant attention to campaigns for local offices.</p> <p>Recent reporting from The New Yorker, ProPublica, and WNYC radio, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-ivanka-trump-and-donald-trump-jr-avoided-a-criminal-indictment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outlined</a> how Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz -- a longtime donor to Vance’s election campaigns -- met with the district attorney before he shut down an investigation into how Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were marketing a new Trump condominium development, Trump SoHo, despite evidence compiled by his own prosecutors that the siblings may have deliberately misled investors. E-mails described by the three news outlets make clear that the Trumps “were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.”</p> <p>A $25,000 donation made by Kasowitz in early 2012 was returned by Vance’s campaign prior to his May meeting with the district attorney (“standard practice” when a donor has matters before the prosecutor’s office, Vance told The New Yorker), but records show Kasowitz made an even larger donation, of $31,993, to Vance in January 2013, that less than six months after the case was abandoned (after this reporting, Vance said he would be returning that money, too).</p> <p>Similarly, a narrow timeline can be traced between payments from two law firms representing Weinstein, made before and after he was let off the hook for allegedly groping an Italian model in his TriBeCa office, despite an audio recording, made in conjunction with the NYPD, of the movie producer apparently admitting to the incident and apologizing. The lawyer who represented Weinstein in the case, Elkan Abramowitz, is a partner in the firm where Vance previously worked and had contributed $26,550 to Vance’s campaign over the years, including $2,100 after the case was dismissed, as <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/12/weinsteins-lawyer-gave-thousands-to-vance-after-da-let-client-off-hook/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the New York Post. In addition, Abramowitz’s firm, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello &amp; Bohre, donated $11,500 to Vance’s election fund, according to state campaign finance records.</p> <p>Another $10,000 contribution came from attorney David Boies -- who has represented Weinstein in past high-profile cases, though none involving Vance -- after the investigation was dropped in April 2015, as <a href="http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/harvey-weinsteins-lawyer-gave-10000-manhattan-da-after-he-declined-file-sexual" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the International Business Times.</p> <p>Vance maintains that he decided each case based on its merits and denies that donations made by lawyers of his clients influenced his decisions. In the face of intense media scrutiny, he has emphasized that it is common for prosecutors to accept campaign donations from lawyers. “No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” Vance <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/cy-vance-defends-weinstein-decision.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> last week.</p> <p>The recent criticism over Vance’s handling of the two investigations has demonstrated how the state’s current campaign finance system can easily lead to situations that sow doubt about the credibility of New York’s top prosecutors. As county-level elected officials, district attorneys across the state, including in New York City, are governed by state law, including in their campaign activities. Therefore, the city’s five district attorneys are not subject to the city’s campaign finance system for municipal offices, which includes much more strict limitations than currently exists in state law, where little exists to limit or enforce district attorney campaign fundraising.</p> <p>Government reform advocates say these Vance cases highlight the need for public financing of all campaigns, but in particular for prosecutors and judges, who receive the bulk of their campaign contributions from lawyers and legal firms.</p> <p>“People rely on the legal system to be a fair and for [judges and prosecutors] to follow the law -- not to play favorites,” said Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group. “The campaign finance system creates an inherent conflict of interest. That’s why we’ve always argued for all races -- but certainly district attorneys and judges -- to be publically financed.”</p> <p>Due to <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/rethinking-judicial-selection-state-courts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing concerns</a> over the real or perceived influence of special interests in judicial races since the 1990s, judicial candidates are now bound by fundraising guidelines, dictated by New York State Bar Association and other ethics oversight bodies, and enforced by the Office of Court Administration. However, there are no such rules for district attorneys, of which there are 62, one in each county of the state, and the Office of Court Administration has no jurisdiction over district attorneys, according to a spokesperson for the agency.&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary ethics blueprint for prosecutors, published by the New York State District Attorneys Association, <a href="http://www.daasny.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Ethics-Handbook.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">titled</a> “The Right Thing: ethical guidelines for prosecutors,” specifies that district attorneys should avoid certain political activities, such as making others aware of their presence at political events, but makes no mention of campaign finance rules. Campaign finance is also absent from a sparse section of the New York State Bar’s “rules of professional conduct” <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/rules/jointappellate/ny-rules-prof-conduct-1200.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">handbook</a> that pertains to “prosecutors and other government lawyers.”</p> <p>By contrast, the <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook</a>, citing an opinion from the New York State Bar Association, specifies that a judge’s campaign committee “may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the judge, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the judge.”</p> <p>Judicial candidates are also instructed to avoid contributions from a party that may “reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected,” or one who has come before the candidate “so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety.” Furthermore, judicial candidates are prohibited from even looking at who contributed to their campaigns and must leave the room at fundraisers when a plea for contributions is made.</p> <p>The judicial guidelines were implemented so that judges would conduct themselves in ways that “maintain public confidence in the judiciary,” according to the handbook. It may be reasonable for prosecutors, who like judges are elected and entrusted by the public to uphold the law, to be held to a similar set of standards.</p> <p>District attorneys in the five boroughs are also not subject to New York City’s strict campaign contribution limits, which set, for example, an individual donation limit of $4,950 per cycle to a mayoral candidate, and much less so for those on the “doing business” list of entities with city business.</p> <p>According to state regulations, an individual can contribute around $34,000 to a Manhattan district attorney’s campaign (the formula caps donations at the total number of active voters in the candidate's party in the district multiplied by $0.05). There are more than 681,000 active registered Democrats in New York County, also known as Manhattan, as of April 2017. But, due to the state’s porous campaign finance rules, contributors can easily circumvent even <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these limits</a>, by donating through a company or spouse, or by creating multiple limited liability corporations, each of which it permitted to contribute up to $5,000 to county-level candidates.</p> <p><strong>A Turning Point</strong> <br />Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards young actresses has frequently been described as an “open secret” in Hollywood circles, but <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bombshell New York Times report</a> last week detailed decades of sexual harassment complaints levied against the producer, as well as secret payouts to scuttle potential law enforcement complaints, involving actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd.</p> <p>Days later, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a piece in The New Yorker</a> detailed further allegations, including several women who said they were raped by Weinstein, and embedded an NYPD recording of the mogul seemingly admitting to the Italian model, Ambra Battilana -- who was wearing a police wire -- that he had groped her breasts the day before. Vance’s office, charged with investigating the forcible touching incident, ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. Since the story was published, allegations about the producer have piled up, with numerous high-profile actresses -- including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale -- and other lesser-known actresses adding their voices to the chorus women claiming they were victimized by Weinstein.</p> <p>The public backlash to the reports has been fierce, with many calling for Vance to resign and the National Organization of Women <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171013/civic-center/now-harvey-weinstein-cy-vance-sexual-harassment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demanding</a> a “full accounting” of his decision in the Weinstein case. A steady stream of New York elected officials have denounced Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor, and announced that they would return or give to charity donations he made to their election campaigns. And with Donald Trump and his family rising to power, many are questioning whether immunity from criminal charges is at least in part dependent upon campaign donations.</p> <p>Defendings its decision last week, Vance’s office released <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a> that while the behavior alleged in recent reports about Weinstein “shocks the conscience,” at the time, the recording did not provide sufficient evidence to prosecute.</p> <p>“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct in 2015, we would have,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo, in <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>. “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD - without our knowledge or input - arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein...While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”</p> <p>In subsequent days, given the new reports, Vance’s office confirmed it was working with the NYPD to investigate allegations against Weinstein.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Vance has been cruising unchallenged toward reelection this fall. Yet, over the last four years his campaign has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, with funds coming mostly from lawyers and law firms, and has nearly $1 million left in the bank. In July, he raised $322,832.12, mostly from lawyers, and spent $358,061.43, leaving him with $1,305,989.18 in the bank, according to his filings with the State Board of Elections. Since the Democratic primary in September, he raised $18,400 and spent $399,084.31, leaving him with $925,333.49, according to his 32-day pre-general election <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=C36419&amp;rdate_in=06-OCT-2017&amp;reportid_in=D&amp;eyear_in=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">filings</a>.</p> <p>The newfound scrutiny of Vance’s campaign finances has placed him in a sticky situation, one that some say could be avoided with new limits on district attorney campaigns, public funding of campaigns for state-level offices, or both. Vance is also now facing at least two campaigns for write-in challengers to unseat him through the November vote, where only his name will appear on the ballot.</p> <p>Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who was recently investigated by Vance’s office himself, with no charges filed -- maintain that it is important to trust the system and that prosecutors are acting in good faith, and lawyers and prosecutors who have interacted with Vance told Gotham Gazette that he has a reputation as a “straight shooter.” However, experts on judicial conduct say that even those with the best intentions may overestimate their own immunity to bias.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of literature out there on unconscious and unintentional bias with respect to financial conflicts of interest,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The long and the short of it is that people are often poor judges of how they are influenced by financial conflicts of interest, and often take actions that seem unbiased to themselves, but will have the appearance of corruption to outsiders.”</p> <p>Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March and is known for efforts to weed out corruption on Wall Street and in state government, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Vance on Friday.</p> <p>“It's time that candidates for local District Attorney just say no to campaign donations from criminal defense lawyers,” Bharara <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/918692649158053888" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweeted</a>, later adding that there should only be public financing for district attorney candidates.</p> <p>While public financing may be ideal, and is perhaps the “cleanest” way to prevent many conflicts, there may also be legal precedent for the passage of state law prohibiting who can contribute to a district attorney’s campaign, according to Horner.</p> <p>“You’ve got to be careful how you develop a law that restricts donations, because there are First Amendment issues that come up, but I think it can be done,” said Horner, noting about half the states in the country have some restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions.</p> <p>“It’s a clumsy process and someone has to enforce it,” he added, noting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ethics advisory board that currently only has jurisdiction over lobbyists and state-level officials, could be incorporated through legislation.</p> <p>News came on Monday morning that Manhattan Assemblymember Dan Quart <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plans to introduce a bill</a> to drastically reform how district attorney campaigns are governed in terms of who they can take donations from and what the caps on those donations would be, as reported by The Daily News.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Vance emphasized to reporters that his fundraising standards were legal, and said that he had a “very sound vetting system.” But he acknowledged, in the wake of the controversies, he would be open to reexamining those practices.</p> <p>“It obviously calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle the matter going forward," he said. "So, in answer, it’s absolutely legal, but [campaign donations] should be re-examined, office by office.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign declined to elaborate on these adjustments when Gotham Gazette inquired.</p> <p>On Sunday, Vance published <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Daily News op-ed</a> in which he defended himself and announced that there will be an independent review of how his campaign has handled contributions, leading to recommendations for future operations, in order “to help us radically reduce the appearance of influence of money in our work.” Vance promised higher standards than required, writing, “notwithstanding New York’s lax campaign finance laws and sky-high contribution limits, I’m prepared to dramatically restrict who can donate money to our campaign — including lawyers — and the amounts that our contributors are able to give.”</p> <p>In the op-ed, Vance said <a href="http://www.law.columbia.edu/public-integrity/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity</a> at Columbia Law School would run the review of his campaign fundraising and larger campaign fundraising practices by district attorneys. The Center is run by Jennifer Rodgers, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who in a Friday interview with Gotham Gazette said she was not familiar with all the details of the situation, but defended Vance’s character and criticized the larger campaign finance system he’s operating within.</p> <p>“It’s very easy after the fact to second guess whether he made the right decision,” Rodgers said, adding that “reasonable people can differ” on whether certain cases may brought, but that she hadn’t seen anything to make her think Vance did anything inappropriate. “He always struck me as a straight guy,” she said, “and I don’t think that this notion that he’s dirty and is somehow on the payroll is valid.”</p> <p>Now, it will be up to Rodgers and CAPI to make recommendations to Vance that will undoubtedly reverberate to a much wider audience. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Vance wrote</a>, “I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue. Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
A Smattering of Independent Expenditures in City Election Cycle 2017-09-25T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7214:a-smattering-of-independent-expenditures-in-city-election-cycle Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/moya_ie_htc_screenshot_via_cfb.png" alt="moya ie htc screenshot via cfb" width="600" height="464" /></p> <p>(IE mailer on behalf of Francisco Moya by the hotel workers union)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2013, independent expenditures by shadowy groups became a dominant talking point around the city’s elections that year. Large spending in races up and down the ballot led to legal changes post-election, but candidates that year benefitted from -- and were hurt by -- large sums of campaign money from groups forbidden from coordinating with their campaigns, but with clear stakes in the outcomes of the elections.</p> <p>In 2013, independent groups tied to big real estate, charter schools, and other special interests spent almost $16 million on the city’s elections, with $8 million alone going to the wide open mayor’s race and $6 million spent in City Council races.</p> <p>This year, with new laws in place that increase transparency and a far lower profile election, a far smaller number of independent expenditures, or IEs, have been spent, mostly slipping under the broader radar of political watchers. As of the latest filings with the Campaign Finance Board on September 22, in this year’s elections, independent groups have spent $1.2 million on city elections, about 7.5% of what was spent in 2013.</p> <p>In further contrast to 2013, this year, IEs in City Council races, where some primary races were highly competitive, were higher than IEs in the mayoral primary, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has been seen as a heavy favorite all along, more so since evading an indictment for public corruption in March.</p> <p>With the city elections now beyond the primaries and into the general election, there are few competitive races or races where independent expenditures may see room to influence an outcome.</p> <p>Independent spenders file as either in support of a candidate, against a candidate, or for or against on an issue.</p> <p>In 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio benefitted from <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2013&amp;cand=326&amp;so=S&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$642,233</a> in IEs from various groups in his successful election to the mayoralty. This year, the mayor has benefitted from <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2017&amp;cand=326&amp;so=S&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$61,309</a> in IEs, all from one funding source: 32BJ SEIU, one of the city’s largest unions. Most of this money from 32BJ, which represents building workers, was spent on promoting de Blasio’s candidacy in tandem with candidates for other offices, such as campaign literature featuring both the mayor and the particular candidate, often for City Council. The union’s total spending on behalf of the mayor alone was just $5,831.</p> <p>The Transport Workers Union and venture capitalist and consultant Bradley Tusk spent <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2017&amp;cand=326&amp;so=O&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$205,181</a> in opposition to the mayor through September 22; $71,156 of it by Tusk very early in the cycle when he was bashing the mayor and trying to recruit a strong challenger, a mission he eventually abandoned.</p> <p>The single largest independent spender in this election cycle through Sept. 22 was <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z89&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Hotel%20Workers%20for%20Stronger%20Communities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities</a>, the political arm of the Hotel Trades Council, the hotel and casino workers’ union. Through September 22, the group spent <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z89&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Hotel%20Workers%20for%20Stronger%20Communities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$400,976</a> on six competitive City Council races; all six candidates the group backed were successful on primary day. More than half of that money was spent on behalf of two candidates: incumbent Democrat Laurie Cumbo of District 35, who was the beneficiary of $122,465, and Keith Powers, the winner of a crowded, “open” Council primary in District 4, who was the beneficiary of $110,988. The rest of the spending was on behalf of Carlina Rivera in District 2, Assemblymember Francisco Moya in District 21, Adrienne Adams in District 28, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel in District 41. All four of these candidates won their primaries in “open” seats where the current officeholder is term-limited or, in once case, the seat was already vacant due to the recent corruption conviction of Ruben Wills.</p> <p>The second largest independent spender this year has been <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z81&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=NYCLASS%20Animal%20Protection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYCLASS Animal Protection</a>, a major player in 2013 when de Blasio promised to ban horse-drawn carriages around Central Park. Although de Blasio did not fulfill this promise, the group did not spend in opposition to the mayor or spend on behalf of one of his primary opponents this year. Rather, the group, like the hotel union, focused on City Council races, with all six candidates it backed emerging victorious on primary night. The candidates included Cumbo, Moya, and Powers, as well as Justin Brannan from District 43, Helen Rosenthal from District 6, and Paul Vallone from District 19.</p> <p>Also spending is the <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z82&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Patrolmen’s%20Benevolent%20Association%20Independent%20Exp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association</a>, the union which represents uniformed police officers. As with the other groups, for the primaries the PBA avoided spending on the mayor’s race and focused on the City Council. On behalf of Moya, Mark Gjonaj of District 13, and Peter Koo of District 20, the PBA spent $28,900 each; all three were successful. The PBA also spent $41,628 on behalf of Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez in District 8, who narrowly lost to Diana Ayala. Ayala had the backing of that seat’s term-limited incumbent, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>The New York City Central Labor Council’s (CLC) PAC has spent a total of $81,540 on two City Council races. Moya benefitted from $32,253 in IEs, while Marvin Holland, who unsuccessfully challenged Bill Perkins in District 9, was the beneficiary of $49,286 in spending.</p> <p>Planned Parenthood NYC Votes spent $3,500 on behalf of Moya, who defeated convicted domestic abuser Hiram Monserrate, and also spent on behalf of three unsuccessful candidates: $3,500 for Amanda Farias in District 18, $9,000 for Randy Abreu in District 14, and $13,795 for Marjorie Velazquez in District 13.</p> <p>Among Council candidates, Moya won the race to replace Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who is not seeking reelection, was the largest beneficiary of IEs in the primaries this year: $195,757 in total. Trailing Moya was Powers, who won the Democratic primary to succeed Dan Garodnick and has benefitted from $163,463 in IEs. In third is Cumbo, who beat back a tough primary challenge from Ede Fox in Brooklyn’s District 35; Cumbo benefitted from $146,941 in IEs.</p> <p>Some of the largest 2013 indepdent spenders -- the Real Estate Board of New York and charter school backers aligned with StudentsFirstNY -- have not been involved in the 2017, yet.</p> <p>Unopposed in the primary, Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis was not the beneficiary of any IEs in the primary as of the September 22 filing date. Neither was independent Bo Dietl. With the mayor’s race now into the general election, Malliotakis may be a prime candidate as a beneficiary of IEs going forward, if any GOP-aligned or anti-de Blasio interest decides to spend heading toward November 7.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/moya_ie_htc_screenshot_via_cfb.png" alt="moya ie htc screenshot via cfb" width="600" height="464" /></p> <p>(IE mailer on behalf of Francisco Moya by the hotel workers union)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2013, independent expenditures by shadowy groups became a dominant talking point around the city’s elections that year. Large spending in races up and down the ballot led to legal changes post-election, but candidates that year benefitted from -- and were hurt by -- large sums of campaign money from groups forbidden from coordinating with their campaigns, but with clear stakes in the outcomes of the elections.</p> <p>In 2013, independent groups tied to big real estate, charter schools, and other special interests spent almost $16 million on the city’s elections, with $8 million alone going to the wide open mayor’s race and $6 million spent in City Council races.</p> <p>This year, with new laws in place that increase transparency and a far lower profile election, a far smaller number of independent expenditures, or IEs, have been spent, mostly slipping under the broader radar of political watchers. As of the latest filings with the Campaign Finance Board on September 22, in this year’s elections, independent groups have spent $1.2 million on city elections, about 7.5% of what was spent in 2013.</p> <p>In further contrast to 2013, this year, IEs in City Council races, where some primary races were highly competitive, were higher than IEs in the mayoral primary, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has been seen as a heavy favorite all along, more so since evading an indictment for public corruption in March.</p> <p>With the city elections now beyond the primaries and into the general election, there are few competitive races or races where independent expenditures may see room to influence an outcome.</p> <p>Independent spenders file as either in support of a candidate, against a candidate, or for or against on an issue.</p> <p>In 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio benefitted from <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2013&amp;cand=326&amp;so=S&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$642,233</a> in IEs from various groups in his successful election to the mayoralty. This year, the mayor has benefitted from <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2017&amp;cand=326&amp;so=S&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$61,309</a> in IEs, all from one funding source: 32BJ SEIU, one of the city’s largest unions. Most of this money from 32BJ, which represents building workers, was spent on promoting de Blasio’s candidacy in tandem with candidates for other offices, such as campaign literature featuring both the mayor and the particular candidate, often for City Council. The union’s total spending on behalf of the mayor alone was just $5,831.</p> <p>The Transport Workers Union and venture capitalist and consultant Bradley Tusk spent <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/IndependentSpenders/Expenditures?ec=2017&amp;cand=326&amp;so=O&amp;viewMode=list&amp;page_no=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$205,181</a> in opposition to the mayor through September 22; $71,156 of it by Tusk very early in the cycle when he was bashing the mayor and trying to recruit a strong challenger, a mission he eventually abandoned.</p> <p>The single largest independent spender in this election cycle through Sept. 22 was <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z89&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Hotel%20Workers%20for%20Stronger%20Communities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities</a>, the political arm of the Hotel Trades Council, the hotel and casino workers’ union. Through September 22, the group spent <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z89&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Hotel%20Workers%20for%20Stronger%20Communities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$400,976</a> on six competitive City Council races; all six candidates the group backed were successful on primary day. More than half of that money was spent on behalf of two candidates: incumbent Democrat Laurie Cumbo of District 35, who was the beneficiary of $122,465, and Keith Powers, the winner of a crowded, “open” Council primary in District 4, who was the beneficiary of $110,988. The rest of the spending was on behalf of Carlina Rivera in District 2, Assemblymember Francisco Moya in District 21, Adrienne Adams in District 28, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel in District 41. All four of these candidates won their primaries in “open” seats where the current officeholder is term-limited or, in once case, the seat was already vacant due to the recent corruption conviction of Ruben Wills.</p> <p>The second largest independent spender this year has been <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z81&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=NYCLASS%20Animal%20Protection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYCLASS Animal Protection</a>, a major player in 2013 when de Blasio promised to ban horse-drawn carriages around Central Park. Although de Blasio did not fulfill this promise, the group did not spend in opposition to the mayor or spend on behalf of one of his primary opponents this year. Rather, the group, like the hotel union, focused on City Council races, with all six candidates it backed emerging victorious on primary night. The candidates included Cumbo, Moya, and Powers, as well as Justin Brannan from District 43, Helen Rosenthal from District 6, and Paul Vallone from District 19.</p> <p>Also spending is the <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z82&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Patrolmen’s%20Benevolent%20Association%20Independent%20Exp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association</a>, the union which represents uniformed police officers. As with the other groups, for the primaries the PBA avoided spending on the mayor’s race and focused on the City Council. On behalf of Moya, Mark Gjonaj of District 13, and Peter Koo of District 20, the PBA spent $28,900 each; all three were successful. The PBA also spent $41,628 on behalf of Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez in District 8, who narrowly lost to Diana Ayala. Ayala had the backing of that seat’s term-limited incumbent, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>The New York City Central Labor Council’s (CLC) PAC has spent a total of $81,540 on two City Council races. Moya benefitted from $32,253 in IEs, while Marvin Holland, who unsuccessfully challenged Bill Perkins in District 9, was the beneficiary of $49,286 in spending.</p> <p>Planned Parenthood NYC Votes spent $3,500 on behalf of Moya, who defeated convicted domestic abuser Hiram Monserrate, and also spent on behalf of three unsuccessful candidates: $3,500 for Amanda Farias in District 18, $9,000 for Randy Abreu in District 14, and $13,795 for Marjorie Velazquez in District 13.</p> <p>Among Council candidates, Moya won the race to replace Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who is not seeking reelection, was the largest beneficiary of IEs in the primaries this year: $195,757 in total. Trailing Moya was Powers, who won the Democratic primary to succeed Dan Garodnick and has benefitted from $163,463 in IEs. In third is Cumbo, who beat back a tough primary challenge from Ede Fox in Brooklyn’s District 35; Cumbo benefitted from $146,941 in IEs.</p> <p>Some of the largest 2013 indepdent spenders -- the Real Estate Board of New York and charter school backers aligned with StudentsFirstNY -- have not been involved in the 2017, yet.</p> <p>Unopposed in the primary, Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis was not the beneficiary of any IEs in the primary as of the September 22 filing date. Neither was independent Bo Dietl. With the mayor’s race now into the general election, Malliotakis may be a prime candidate as a beneficiary of IEs going forward, if any GOP-aligned or anti-de Blasio interest decides to spend heading toward November 7.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
Rochester Mayor Accused of Circumventing Campaign Finance Rules 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7058:rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>