My Formal Complaint against the 2009 Campaign of New York City Mayoral Candidate Michael Bloomberg

What follows in this post is the text of a formal complaint that I filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board against the 2009 campaign committee of mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg. I post it here so that voters interested in my 2013 City Council campaign can read it and make up their own minds about the case.

It reads like a legal document–that’s what it is, after all–but it’s not really all that complicated. I believe it lays out a straightforward, common-sense analysis of what the campaign finance law says and why it’s obvious (it seems to me) that Michael Bloomberg seems to have broken that law in 2009. That’s a problem, because as the Mayor he’s supposed to be enforcing the laws, not breaking them.

 

To this post I am also adding, for your reference, a link to two documents cited in the complaint, so that anyone can read them in their entirety. The following will take you to a .pdf file that contains both documents, as seen in the left-hand sidebar:

http://www.nyccfb.info/act-program/fd/FD_2009_1.pdf

I also recommend the entire Campaign Finance Board website, as listed above–http://www.nyccfb.info–to access the text of the City’s Campaign Finance Act and the Rules that govern the Board’s investigations of candidate compliance with the law. 

Further, readers may want to read articles from the New York City newspapers about the John Haggerty grand larceny trial, which concluded last fall. The Haggerty case was the matter that brought to my attention all the questions surrounding the Mayor’s campaign finance filings during the 2009 election. Readers could access a lot of information by simply searching “Bloomberg AND Haggerty,” and perhaps also by adding one or all of the names of the four big daily papers–The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

On a technical matter: This is only the text of the complaint, not a scan or a photocopy of the original. The original contains my signature and the document’s notarization. I will try to get a scan of the document itself for those who would like to see it in its original form.

As always, readers’ comments and questions are welcome.

Jerry Kann

_____________________________________________________________

New York City Campaign Finance Board
Special Compliance & Policy Assurance
40 Rector Street, 7th Floor
New York,NY10006

November 26, 2011

 

To the Board:

This communication is a formal complaint against the 2009 campaign of incumbent mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg. I contend that Bloomberg violated provisions of the New York City Campaign Finance Act (the Act), namely §3-703.6(a), §3-711.3, and §3-719.1(c) of the New York City Administrative Code. These violations occurred, as I will try to demonstrate, in connection with the matter of political operative John Haggerty, whose trial for grand larceny was recently concluded.

For the reader’s reference, I have enclosed copies of some (but certainly not all) of the news reports I have read about the Haggerty affair and how it bears on campaign finance questions surrounding Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign. (It was the Haggerty trial that brought all these questions to my attention. I knew nothing about this case until I saw newspaper stories about it in early September of this year. I came upon one of the enclosed articles—the February 2010 story by Wayne Barrett of The Village Voice—only recently in the course of doing research on the Internet.) Also enclosed are copies of two documents sent to me by Mr. Eric Friedman of the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) Press Center: the Board’s Final Determination No. 2009-1 (FD 2009-1) regarding a complaint filed by the 2009 mayoral campaign of Democratic nominee William Thompson, and a listing of personal political contributions made by candidates for City office from 2006 through 2009.

I should also note that a few weeks ago I made phone calls to Assistant District Attorney for New York County, Eric Seidel—the attorney who prosecuted the Haggerty case—and Chairman of the Independence Party of New York State, Frank MacKay. I had questions for both, and I was able to learn from MacKay, at least, that there was no written contract stipulating terms of agreement between Haggerty and Bloomberg. I mention all this primarily to demonstrate that I have made a fairly substantial effort to learn as much as I could about this matter prior to writing up this complaint.

— The Alleged Violations in Question —

To reiterate, Bloomberg appears to have violated three provisions of the Campaign Finance Act during the 2009 campaign. §3-711.3 states that “the falsifying or concealment of any…information relevant to any audit by the board…shall be punishable as a class A misdemeanor…” This provision applies to both participating candidates (i.e., those seeking matching funds from the CFB) and non-participating candidates (i.e., those not seeking matching funds but who nonetheless are required by law to make complete reports of campaign contributions and expenditures to the CFB). The Board’s own findings, detailed in FD 2009-1, emphasize the Act’s “uniform disclosure” requirements covering all candidates for City office.

The Bloomberg campaign failed to report the candidate’s $1.2 million contribution to the state Independence Party (IP) in October 2009. All parties involved—IP, Bloomberg, and Haggerty—understood that $1.1 million of the “contribution” was meant to be paid to Haggerty in order to finance his proposed poll-watching operation on Election Day. This fact is made clear in most media accounts of the Haggerty affair. It is perfectly clear that this back-channel method of funding the poll-watching operation constitutes the very sort of concealment of campaign expenditures that §3-711.3 designates as a class A misdemeanor. According to reports in the media, Bloomberg used his own personal checking account to provide these funds to the IP. Hence it seems highly improbable that someone other than Bloomberg authorized the transaction or that he didn’t know what the money in question would be paying for.

Might Bloomberg have thought that the requirement for disclosure did not apply to him, since he was a non-participating candidate who was not seeking matching funds? This too seems highly unlikely. §3-719.1(c) states in very plain terms that non-participating candidates such as Bloomberg must submit disclosure reports of all campaign expenditures—and yet the Bloomberg campaign in 2009 did not disclose the $1.2 million expenditure at issue in this matter. Furthermore, FD 2009-1 notes that “during the 2005 election cycle, Bloomberg reported to the Board campaign expenditures that he had made from his personal account before the change in the Act requiring non-participating candidates to disclose campaign expenditures in the same manner as participating candidates.” If Bloomberg was prudent enough and conscientious enough to report all campaign expenditures during the 2005 campaign cycle, when he was not even legally required to do so, how could he have been ignorant of the advisability of reporting such expenditures in 2009, when he was legally required to do so?

Finally, could Bloomberg have seriously considered a contribution that was meant to pay for an Election Day operation to be something other than a campaign expenditure? The contention that Bloomberg held such a naïve view of the law would be very hard to defend. In fact, to make such an argument would be to argue an absurdity.

— The Need to Re-examine Candidate Compliance in 2009 —

It is reasonable and fair to revisit Bloomberg’s handling of campaign finance matters in 2009, especially considering the vast sums of money involved and the relative weakness and irrationality of the arguments likely to be used in Bloomberg’s defense. Indeed, the public’s need to hold City candidates accountable for their actions makes it fair to investigate campaign finance questions regarding the campaign of any candidate for City office during the 2009 election cycle.

That same spirit of accountability and transparency should compel the Board to reconsider its somewhat astonishing decision in FD 2009-1 to the effect that it “does not require Bloomberg or any other candidate to report the political contributions at issue for the 2009 election cycle.” FD 2009-1 justifies offering this sweeping amnesty on the grounds that the CFB had “never previously clarified to candidates that they must report to the Board political contributions made with personal funds…”

What sort of clarification did Bloomberg need to grasp the simple fact that all campaign expenditures must be reported to the CFB? §3-703.6(a) of the Act states that “each non-participating candidate and his or her authorized committees shall report to the board…every expenditure made by the candidate…” The law is expressed in plain English that anyone should be able to understand, with or without benefit of counsel.

Further examination of the $1.2 million contribution to IP is in order, as the Board’s own finding implies. Again in FD 2009-1, the Board found that “political contributions made by Bloomberg with his personal funds to political committees that support candidates in New York City and throughout New York State (except political committees of other candidates) are presumptively campaign expenditures in furtherance of his campaign.” This determination was, of course, the result of the Thompson campaign’s 2009 complaint against Bloomberg concerning contributions that pre-date the contribution at issue in the Haggerty affair. Therefore it seems obvious that the $1.2 million contribution at the heart of that case should be considered independently of the contributions considered in FD 2009-1.

I contend that the Board is not justified in calling off all further investigation of candidate compliance during the 2009 election cycle—that is, if indeed it wishes to fulfill its obligation to help enforce campaign finance law in New York City. The Board’s own data support this view, as an examination of the record makes clear.

One of the documents sent to me by Mr. Friedman lists all 81 candidates for City office who made contributions of more than $99 from their own personal funds to non-candidate political committees from 2006 through 2009. I was a candidate for City Council in 2009 and my name appears on the list. It is instructive to examine the contributions I made, in order to compare them to those of Bloomberg and perhaps those of other candidates. I have neither the time nor the resources to do an exhaustive study of all the contributions detailed on the list. But I trust that a review of my own contributions will be sufficient to show how unfair it would be to view all 81 candidates as somehow equally negligent of their duty to comply with campaign finance law—yet somehow equally deserving of a general amnesty.

I made contributions in 2006 and 2007 (total: $600) to the Green Party Office Committee (which a number of Green Party members organized in 2002 in order to establish a centrally located office for the party in Manhattan). I know a few things about this committee because, it so happens, I was its treasurer during those years and in fact I am still the treasurer of record. The Committee still owes about $4000 and can only be shut down once it owes no more than $100, according to state law. The office closed its doors in November 2006, saddled with much debt. After that date, contributions to the Committee were made strictly for the purpose of paying off its debts. There was no office left, after November 2006, which could have aided anyone’s future campaign for public office, including my own.

I also ran for City Council in 2005. Naturally contributions that I made to the Office Committee in 2006 and 2007 could not possibly be related to my 2005 campaign. Furthermore, I changed my party affiliation from Green to Populist in June 2009 and ran for Council as a Populist in the 2009 general election. In any case, I was not active with the Green Party after February 2008 (except for my legal obligation to file semi-annual disclosure statements on the finances of the Office Committee, even when it had not raised or spent any funds during the reporting period). In short, those 2006 and 2007 contributions to a Green committee could not conceivably have been in furtherance of my Populist candidacy during the 2009 campaign.

There surely must be others among the 81 candidates on the list whose personal contributions to non-candidate political committees had nothing to do with furthering their candidacies for City office. It would be altogether unfair to tar all 81 with the same brush, particularly since so doing could distract public attention from the actions of at least one candidate who quite clearly did use his personal funds in furtherance of his 2009 campaign.

— Conclusion —

The facts presented in this complaint make it very clear that candidate Michael Bloomberg violated provisions of the New York City Campaign Finance Act. This is cause for some concern. The people of New York will be sure to lose confidence and trust in a law such as the Campaign Finance Act if the very City agency charged with enforcing the Act allows individuals to violate it with virtually no fear of ever being prosecuted for it. In regard to this matter, the CFB must take action to defend the principle that is crucial to every functioning democracy in the world—namely, that no one is above the law and no one is below it.

Respectfully submitted,

Gerald F. Kann
25-60 42nd Street, Apt. 1F
Astoria, NY 11103
(718) 728-1092

 Enclosures
/gfk

Note: I am probably listed in CFB records as Jerry Kann, the name which I used in my campaign literature in 2009 and which I wanted to appear with my statement in the Voter Guide. I sign above the name Gerald F. Kann here because that is the form of my name which I use on my official papers, and I knew this document needed to be notarized in order to be accepted as an official complaint to the Board.

                                                    #     #     #

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