Bloomberg's Money Trail
March 3rd, 2010

While the eyes of most ethics watchdog remained firmly fixed n Albany — always fertile ground — a few stalwarts have spied a rather smell situation in the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has always claimed that his billions of dollars are a kind of guarantee against corruption — a line many have been only to quick to swallow. But with Bloomberg you need to watch not who the mayor takes money from but who he gives it to. Witness the current controversy involving the mayor’s gifts to the Independence Party.

Up to now, the story has received scant notice form the Times and reform advocates, but Adam Lisberg and Liz Benjamin of the News and Wayne Barrett of the Voice have been on the case. Here are some highlights of what they have reported.

In the week before the November mayoral election, Bloomberg gave two $600,000 contributions to the Independence Party, which had awarded him the party’s line in the mayoral election, providing a handy option for Bloomberg’s many supporters who can’t stomach the Republican Party. The money came from Bloomberg’s personal accounts, putting it beyond the scrutiny of campaign finance laws. As Barrett explains, this far exceeded the $94,000 an individual can give to a party’s campaign committee. But in one of those loopholes state campaign finance law dangles before politicians and those who enable them, people can contribute an unlimited amount to party housekeeping accounts. That money is supposed to go to general party operations — not candidates.

But the Bloomberg money may have crossed the line. Bloomberg lawyer Ken Gross told Barrett the money was intended to help “whatever candidates the Independence Party had on the ballot.” Gross said that’s legal because “housekeeping expenditures can be made to benefit all candidates” backed by a party, so long as they don’t “benefit just a single candidate.” Other election lawyers that Barrett consulted disagreed.

To make things even murkier, $750,00 of that money went to a Queens GOP operative named John Haggerty. While Haggerty was supposed to use that to staff a poll watching effort on Election Day, he may have used it to buy his childhood home in Forest Hills. Haggerty reportedly got another $120,000 from the free-spending mayor in the form of a contribution to the operative’s new 28th Assembly Republican District Committee.

Bloomberg has made lavish use of the housekeeping loophole before giving at least $4 million to the state Republican Party housekeeping account between 2001 and 2009. And he contributed $1.2 million to the Independence Party housekeeping fund in August and October of 2008 with including a $200,000 gift the day after the City Council did his bidding and overturned the term limits law. While the other contribution to the housekeeping account are all in the few hundred dollar category, Eli Broad, a Los Angeles billionaire and prominent supporter of Bloomberg’s school program, gave the account $50,000 in September 2008.

In addition, Bloomberg apparently did not report his 2009 gifts until long after the mayoral election. Although he gave one on Oct. 30 and one on Nov. 2, neither showed up in ay pre-election filing or even in the filing required 32 days after the vote. The contributions did not become public knowledge until Jan. 2.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating the money and where it went. In the eye of Neighborhood Retail Alliance its none too soon. The blog wrote today, “The Bloomberg usurpation of democratic practices needs to be thoroughly exposed so that we are better armed to counteract the corrosive impact of great wealth in the city’s political system.”

By on March 3, 2010, 3:14 pm
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