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Elections

Regulators Issue No Violations for Bloomberg's 'Secret' Donations


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NEW YORK — Michael Bloomberg's 2009 mayoral campaign worked to conceal $1.2 million in donations made in the days before voters headed to the polls, regulators say.

But the New York City Campaign Finance Board found that while the Bloomberg campaign's actions "contravened the spirit of disclosure," it could find no violation.

The board voted 3-to-1 to close the inquiry into Bloomberg's 2009 mayoral campaign yesterday. The mayor's office didn't respond to a request for comment.

But attorneys for Bloomberg's 2009 campaign said in papers released by the board that the allegations had no basis and should be dismissed.

In a sometimes pointed final report, the board slammed the Bloomberg campaign for taking advantage of a temporary loophole in election law to deliberately avoid public disclosure of the donations made on Oct. 30, and Nov. 2, 2009, to the Independence Party.

The money was intended to fund so-called "ballot security operations," poll-watching that some groups have criticized as potentially leading to disenfranchisement at the voter booth.

There is no evidence the money was ever spent on behalf of the mayor's campaign. John Haggerty, Jr., a Republican political consultant hired to oversee the ballot security initiatives, was convicted of stealing the money and using about $600,000 to buy a home.

In a review of extensive testimony from the criminal trial of Haggerty, the board found that top officials with the Bloomberg campaign were intricately involved in the "negotiations, financing and logistics of Haggerty's ballot security operation" and that they took deliberate actions to avoid having to make public the donations.    

"The record before the board makes clear that [the Bloomberg campaign], with a stated intent to conceal the funding of its $1.1 million ballot security operation by 'do[ing] it on the outside,' moved to deprive the New York City electorate of the benefits of disclosure," the board report states.
 
The board's staff began looking into questions surrounding the donations to the Independence Party in February 2010, with Haggerty's trial generating "voluminous evidence and testimony" relevant to the inquiry, the report said.

The board also received a complaint from Gerald F. Kann, a political activist linked with the Green Party, urging a review of Bloomberg's donations. The board said that while the complaint "raises serious public policy consideration … it does not allege a violation of law upon which the board may grant relief."

However, the board said that it was "troubled" by the ability of Bloomberg to "make and conceal such payments in the first place." The money was donated to a party housekeeping account, which allow for unlimited contributions and few reporting requirements under state law. The board said such accounts are, "at best, hostile to the principles of fair play and transparency."

Richard Davis, an attorney, was the sole member of the city's Campaign Finance Board to vote against the motion to close the inquiry.

“I believe the evidence here warrants a notice of penalty for improper coordination and for making a payment for services designed to benefit the campaign," he said about his decision. "The issue then would be how much, if any, of the money was actually spent for the intended purpose rather than stolen.”

Read the complete report by the board below.

FBD 2012-1

National Anti-Gay Marriage Group Spends Big to Push Out NY Lawmakers


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NEW YORK — The National Organization for Marriage, which is dedicated to limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex and has enjoyed success in most states, is not giving up on New York, the biggest state to currently allow same-sex couples to marry.

The group is claiming the scalps of several legislators who voted for the bill in 2011 and lost primaries — and is pushing to knock off more in the November general election.  

Most observers don’t see how same-sex marriage can be stopped in New York — 58 percent of registered voters supported it in a Siena poll in April 2011, including 45 percent of Republicans. But NOM hasn't given up. Far from it.

“If they passed it, they can reverse it," said Brian Brown, president of NOM, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "Hopefully, [Senate Majority Leader] Dean Skelos will wake up and smell the coffee." Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also seen as an obstacle: "We’re going to need a better governor," Brown said.

But he conceded that the latter would "take some time" — more than the two years the group touted after the bill passed last year.

“We also hope the legislators will follow their own platitudes and give their constituents more say,” he said, arguing for the state Legislature to permit people to vote directly for constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage laws. Twenty-nine states have already done so, and 12 more ban it in law.

Meanwhile, NOM is putting its money where its agenda is. In the primaries alone, it spent well over $300,000 to defeat candidates who voted for same-sex marriage. Such a large expenditure for a group outside New York is unusual. The organization declined to respond to questions about how much it expected to spend for the general election.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who shepherded the marriage equality bill through his house, said flatly, “The Assembly is not going to repeal." He emphasized that they "passed [the bill] five times" starting in 2007 before the Senate passed it last year. And Cuomo, who championed the new law and has seen his national prominence grow because of it, would surely veto any attempt to undo it.

But that doesn’t mean that some of those who voted for the bill have not paid a political price that may have repercussions for the movement to bring marriage equality to a vote in states such as Rhode Island, Maryland and Oregon, where activists on both sides are trying to sway legislators.

Political observers have looked to the results of the state’s 2012 primaries on Sept. 13 to learn what they say about the risks of voting for gay marriage when representing conservative districts. The results also raise the issue of the relative ability of pro-gay marriage groups to protect their allies and anti-gay marriage groups to defeat their opponents.

Of the four Republican Senators who voted for marriage equality:

  • Jim Alesi of the Rochester area decided not to run.
  • Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie — a state legislator since 1980 — won his primary by 107 votes out of almost 10,000 cast, beating Neil Di Carlo despite a huge cash advantage (most of those funds went unspent).
  • Despite outspending her five-to-one, Roy McDonald of Saratoga lost by 100 votes to Kathleen Marchione, the Saratoga County clerk, who attacked him for reversing himself on the marriage issue even though she said she would not vote to repeal it.
  • Mark Grisanti of Buffalo won handily, but faces a Conservative Party opponent, Chuck Swanick, who himself lost the Democratic primary to Mike Amodeo in the normally Democratic district

Among Democrats who voted aye:

  • Sen. Shirley Huntley of Queens lost her primary to same-sex marriage opponent James Sanders, a City Council Member
  • Assembly Member Naomi Rivera lost to Mark Gjonaj, the challentger backed by Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., the Bronx Democrat who led the fight against gay marriage in New York. (Gjonaj will be the first Albanian American elected to the Legislature.)

Campaigners for same-sex marriage are quick to point out that Huntley was under indictment (and pictured right before the elections in the city's tabloids wearing handcuffs); Rivera under an ethical cloud; and Alesi under fire for filing a personal injury lawsuit that many deemed frivolous.

But few would dispute that the marriage issue was high profile in the Grisanti, Saland, and McDonald races.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a late commer to the marriage equality cause (he came out for it in 2005 — the day he successfully appealed a court order to start issuing licenses to gay couples), donated heavily to the Republicans who voted for it and some of the Democrats (reserving his latest million-dollar donation to keeping Republicans in charge of the Senate). Cuomo offered his support to the four Republicans. Even Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) said last year: “I don’t want to see them lose their seats.”

The Republicans also benefited from plutocrats such as Paul Singer, who has a gay son, and libertarian David Koch, who are fine with legislators voting for same-sex marriage as long as they are part of Republican majorities that do their bidding on their core agenda of deregulation and low taxes.

LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Empire State Pride Agenda also raised money for their newfound friends, but their ability to help win primaries for Republicans challenged from the right was complicated by the fact that none of the incumbents sought open endorsements from these groups and few of their members are active in the Republican Party in these districts.

Even the Log Cabin Republicans of New York State — an openly LGBT group — did not do formal endorsements of Saland and McDonald. They did endorse Grisanti and pro-marriage equality Republican Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, who won her primary.

HRC did not respond to a query about the level of troops they mobilized on behalf of marriage equality supporters in New York.

Lynn Faria, the acting director of the Pride Agenda, said, “We got involved in phone banking our supporters, donating staff time and direct financial support and helped the campaigns connect with our donors.”

She also said they had "more than 20 volunteers and a dozen seasoned Pride Agenda staffers on the ground" for the primary elections. They made an $11,000 donation to McDonald, $1,000 to Grisanti, and none directly to Saland, though “many of our supporters and board members did,” she said.

But compare that with NOM's efforts.

Brown said the organization "worked closely with folks disillusioned with Grisanti and McDonald and Saland."

"We will continue to do that. We spent a quarter million in the McDonald race. Some of it was issue ads. We highlighted his vote on same-sex marriage. On Saland we spent $50,000 to 100,000," he continued. "That race took people as a huge surprise. It was an uphill battle. Saland had been there for so long. No one expected Neil De Carlo to make it close, but he ran on it and made his position clear. We did automated calls. Email to our members. And that was the biggest issue in that race.”

The Pride Agenda did not run independent ads in these districts to help their Senate supporters, nor does it seem any LGBT group did.

Gregory T. Angelo, chairman of the Log Cabin, said that out of their 1,900 members in the state, they had “a couple of dozen on the ground” in these campaigns. They helped significantly with fundraising, but noted that while McDonald spent “an incredible amount of money” and lost, Saland’s close call may have had to do with the fact that “he had not had to fight in a primary in the past” and “did not do a lot of spending during the primary,” relying instead on “grassroots” and “a smart and aggressive absentee operation.”

Assemblyman O’Donnell said he was "disappointed and concerned about people who voted yes losing their seats."

"I am also concerned about groups that raised money on this issue not helping the people who got it passed,” especially Assembly Democrats who led the fight, he said.

Brian Ellner, a New York gay activist who worked with the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign in 2011 on the bill and helped raise big bucks especially for the four Republican Senators who voted for it, pointed out that "two of the three Republicans running who supported equality and fairness were re-elected."

"The one who lost was defeated by 100 votes on a record-low turnout. It demonstrates clearly you can do the right thing and survive," he said.

There is some question of how much McDonald even wanted to win. A poll conducted by Singer’s PAC showed McDonald with a 54 percent approval rating from all voters.

But when McDonald announced his support for the marriage equality bill in June 2011, he famously said, “You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn't black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I'm trying to do the right thing, and that's where I'm going with this.” That kind of refreshing candor is usually reserved to former politicians.

NOM’s Brown is also predicting that Grisanti "is gone." "He’s going to lose the general,” he said.  

Asked if he realized that their support for Conservative Swanick might deliver the seat to pro-gay Democrat Amodeo and help with a Democratic majority in the Senate, Brown said he didn't "really care."

“These Republicans betrayed their constituents and their Republican Party principles," Brown continued. Indeed, the Republican National Convention once again adopted a platform calling for a federal constitutional amendment limiting marriage to man-woman couples throughout the United States.

While both NOM and the LGBT groups are spinning the results of the primaries as victories for their respective sides, Paul Schindler, editor of the Gay City News who has covered this issue from its inception, said, “NOM came nowhere close to doing what they said they’d do — make heads roll. But the notion that no one can lose their seat for this vote is just not borne out. McDonald clearly did. Saland came close. And Jim Alesi probably made the decision to get out over it.

“NOM wants to overstate it and our side wants to keep saying you won’t lose. My concern is that community leaders need to be willing to take a hard look at this. We buy into the idea that the polls are moving in our direction and it [marriage equality nationally] is inevitable. But we lose all the referenda on it. We’ll know a lot more about those concerns on November 7th” — when four more states hold referenda on same-sex marriage.

Ellner is working on a social media campaign called The Four to win marriage equality in Maine, Washington and Maryland and to fend off an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.

In each of those places, statewide organizations are working for and against the referenda. National groups such as NOM are working to win them for man-woman marriage and HRC and Freedom to Marry are aiding the efforts to open marriage to gay couples.

O’Donnell said he believes New York’s passage of marriage equality was “a tipping point” for the country. The adoption of the law here was said to have heavily influenced President Obama decision this year to come out for same-sex marriage — a position he had held as a candidate for state Senate in Illinois years ago but abandoned when he ran for statewide and national office.

Even as the political struggle over same-sex marriage continues as a driving theme in local elections, it is also still playing out on the national level.

Obama’s Justice Department was in federal appeals court in Manhattan on Sept. 27 with the American Civil Liberties Union arguing for federal recognition of the marriage of New Yorker Edie Windsor, 83, widow of Thea Spyer. It is one of several cases the US Supreme Court has before it finishes this term. The case will determine if legally married gay couples should get federal rights denied them by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and whether the denial of marriage rights to Californians by Prop 8 in 2008 was constitutional.

___

Andy Humm is the co-host of the weekly Gay USA cable TV show, a contributor to Gay City News, and a former city Human Rights commissioner. Image of National Organization of Marriage President Brian Brown by Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

Rival Candidates in State Senate Race Say They Won't Toe Party Lines


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NEW YORK — On a warm Sunday morning in September, a pastor at the The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ozone Park, Queens, speaks about the importance of being both a U.S. citizen and a leader for God. An American flag is perched just a few feet away.

While the sermon might be at the forefront of their minds, parishioners are unlikely to have forgotten that two members of their congregation are locked in a heated political battle. When they go home at night, they probably see their councilman’s commercials, where Councilman Eric Ulrich walks the streets of Queens talking about local business.

They’ve probably seen their state Senator, Jospeh Addabbo, at events across the district. It’s an uneasy feeling for a good deal of the parishioners here who say they wish the two men weren’t opponents.

“I wish they wouldn’t run against each other... but it is politics,” said Ruben Martinez, who has been an active member of the congregation for 16 years. He said he knows Joseph Addabbo Jr. through the Knights of Columbus and Erich Ulrich through the parish. “I’m up in the air about who to vote for,” he said.

The two men vying for the 15th State Senate District in Queens know each other fairly well beyond their shared congregation. As councilman and Senator, both men have appeared at political gatherings together despite being from opposite parties. They also attended the same school and live near each other — Addabbo in Howard Beach; Ulrich in Ozone Park. Each claims to be independently minded, and not bound by party loyalty.

But on the issues that matter to their community, they are mostly far apart. And each has been working to paint the other as someone who either believes the wrong things, or won't actually stand up for what they believe in.

The two men had strikingly different starts in life. Ulrich was the first in his family to earn a college degree when he graduated from St. Francis College with a degree in political science. He worked for the Transportation Security Administration and the New York City Board of Elections. In 2005, at age 20, he ran for a Republican district leader post and lost by 120 votes.

Then, in 2009, he ran and was elected to the Council, where he is the youngest member of the body. Ulrich was also chosen by the Mitt Romney campaign to be their chairman in New York City.

In contrast, Addabbo comes from a well established political family. His father, Joseph P. Addabbo Sr., served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and became a noted critic of defense spending during the Reagen years.

Addabbo Jr. has sought to link his work as a lawmaker with his father’s legacy. After spending several years practicing law following his graduation from St. John’s University and Touro Law School,  Addabbo Jr. ran for and won election to the City Council in 2001. He served for seven years before defeating 10-term Republican incumbent Sen. Serphin Maltese in 2008 to represent the 15th district.

Debating The Issues

Things have gotten ugly quickly in the race between the two men.

Ulrich has attacked Addabbo for “flip-flopping” his vote on same-sex marriage. Addabbo voted against the measure in 2009, but voted for it in 2011. Now, though, Ulrich says the vote shouldn’t even be an issue.

“It’s the law of the land,” he said. “I would not have voted for it if I was in the Senate at the time because of religious beliefs, but now that it is the law it is not going to be repealed and, if it came up for a vote, I would not vote for repeal.”

But Ulrich is willing to attack Addabbo forcefully on other subjects. “I think he has been a lap dog to his party. He went to Albany and forgot his constituents in Queens and raises taxes on small businesses,” he said.

Addabbo has stressed his experience and independence. “Listen, I watched Eric in the community and he has played my playbook,” the senator said. “I was involved with the local police council, community groups — that was my playbook before I was elected in 2002. But I have a lot more experience that he does. He has only been in public service for three years.”

Addabbo also emphasizes his time on the City Council as a formative experience that has prepared him for his service in Albany.

“He has not had to deal with anywhere near as bad budgets as I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “We had the worst city budget in history in 2002 and then, when I was elected to the Senate, we had the worst state budget in history. During tough times who do you want representing you?”

Ulrich has been successful at setting the terms of the debate so far. His commercials focus on small businesses in an obsessive manner.

As Liz Benjamin of the State of Politics noted, “Ulrich mentions the phrase ‘small business’ once every six seconds on average,”  and he has attacked Addabbo repeatedly on his record of helping small business.

Addabbo has responded with events in the district focused on business, like a small business walk and he has cited work to cut tax breaks to companies that outsource jobs overseas.

Addabbo may be playing defense because Ulrich’s campaign is much better funded. Ulrich has been the winner in fundraising, with his committee having raised nearly $299,000 in 2012. Addabbo’s committee has raised $150,311.

Ulrich has touted a National Federation of Independent Businesses report card that gave Addabbo a 50 percent score. The NFIB is a right-wing group that donates heavily to Republican candidates. The scorecard is based on seven bills the group supported. Addabbo voted for three of their measures, including a property tax cap; but he also voted against three, including a bill that would impede the state from imposing regulations on Voice over Internet Protocol services.

Addabbo also got a bad score from tne NFIB for missing a vote on Tier VI pension reform because he had walked out of the chamber in protest with the rest of the Senate Democratic conference.

But Ulrich has a list of his own disagreements with Addabbo’s votes. “He voted to repeal the STAR rebate” — a property tax rebate — “and then voted two years later to restore it. He voted for the MTA payroll tax which hurts small businesses — I would not have voted for it, and he supports more charter schools because he is beholden to the teachers union,” Ulrich said.

He also said he feels Addabboo “half-heartedly” supports stop-and-frisk. “It seems to be that he wants his cake and to eat it, too,” Ulrich said.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, the head of the state’s Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said the issue of small business and job creation actually favors Addabbo.

“There is only one candidate in this race that produced jobs, only one who actually supports a minimum wage hike and equal pay for women and is not an extremist right winger,” Gianaris said.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said Ulrich is viewed as an up-and-comer. “There is every indication that he has been a great councilman fighting for his community, and fighting for the middle class,” he said.

Addabbo notes that he has passed legislation to give tax credits to small business and has worked to lower utility bills for small businesses in his district. He also says that while Ulrich is focused on one important issue, his campaign has the experience to deal with a multitude of issues facing the people he represents. He points to job fairs he has held across the district; environmental issues facing the area; and concerns about rising rents.

Ulrich says that, unlike Addabbo, he won’t be beholden to his party. “They are in for a surprise. I told [Majority Leader Sen. Dean] Skelos I’m not going to be tapped on the shoulder and told how to vote,” he said.

For instance, Ulrich says he supports a hike in the minimum wage — which Skelos has labeled “a job killer” — saying it will help workers and communities.

Addabbo insists he is also not just a cog in his conference’s machine. “I am a proud Democrat but I won’t put party interests before my people,” he said. “My voting record is out there. You can see when I didn't vote with my conference because I didn’t think it was right for my people.”

As for Ulrich’s support of the minimum wage, Democrats point out that the councilman missed hearings on a resolution in support of it.

But Ulrich campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud said that while he might have been absent from the committee meetings, he voted in favor of the resolution when it came before the full Council later that afternoon.

Ulrich, she said, “has been a consistent and vocal supporter of raising the state's minimum wage... . If anyone is trying to suggest otherwise, they are simply wrong.”

When asked if he believes Ulrich does not truly support a hike in the minimum wage, Addabbo declined to speculate, but noted that he supports it and may have supported it before Ulrich.

He did, however, point to another issue that makes him question Ulrich’s independence.

“When he actually said he is for hydrofracking and gave the same line Sen. Tom Libous delivered on the floor of the Senate about how it will benefit the upstate economy I was taken aback. Do you know what it would do to the people and businesses of this district if our drinking water was tainted? It would be a disaster. So if he is pulling the Republican line, I don’t know how independent he can be,” Addabbo said.
 
Regardless of Ulrich’s own beliefs, Democrats argue that keeping the Republicans in the majority in the state Senate will prevent votes on a minimum wage hike, tougher gun laws and other legislation.

But Ulrich has broken ranks with his party before — he supported full immigration reform and was the only Republican on the Council to vote for rent stabilization.  “He certainly has been an independent voice, but our conference is made up a lot of different voices,” Reif said of Ulrich.

Another issue on both candidates’ minds is reforming the culture in Albany. Ulrich says he wants to see the state Board of Elections get tougher on candidates who violate state regulations.

“The state Board of Election needs to increase its enforcement,” he said. “It needs a robust financial enforcement unit … and if the laws are vague we need to change them. Candidates should not be able to use campaign donations as a piggy bank for themselves while they are in and out of office.”

Addabbo cites his time as the chair of the Senate elections committee, where he championed a number of bills that broadened voter access, as a sign of his commitment to reforming Albany and good government. But he would like to take election reform further than increasing enforcement rules. During his time on the Council, Addabbo worked on campaign finance reform and public financing of elections, and says he wants to use his experience on the issue in Albany.

“Unfortunately, both sides of the aisle like getting big corporate checks with little oversight and reporting,” Addabbo said. However, he says he hears there is motion in Albany on larger campaign finance reform, including possible movement on bills he has co-sponsored.

“The bottom line is we have to do this,” he said. “I implore the governor to go further because we won’t restore credibility to Albany without it.”

Independent But Partisan

So who will be more independent, and who will stick to the party votes? Addabbo says he doesn’t think that is how voters will think about their choice between the two candidates in the end.

“My people don’t care about who is more Democrat or Republican, they don’t care about commercials or billboards. They care about, ‘what are you gonna do for me?’” he said.

Regardless of what any candidate says is the most important issue of the race and how much they claim independence, each of them are beholden — at least financially — to partisan interests.

For instance, Ulrich received a donation fo $10,000 from Friends to Elect Dean Skelos, and the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee has given Ulrich $234,700. The New York State Republican Committee has given Ulrich $250,000.

Addabbo, on the other hand, received much of his campaign cash from the committees of his fellow Democratic Senators, such as Liz Krueger, Kevin Parker and Mike Gianaris. Friends of Mike Gianaris has given Addabbo over $10,000 in this election cycle.

Other major donors to his campaign include various trade unions and gambling interests. Genting New York LLC, the company that was involved in lobbying Gov. Andrew Cuomo to build a mega casino in Queens, has donated over $10,000 to Addabbo.

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Kamelia Kilawan contributed to this report.



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