Bloomberg Seems to Have Broken Campaign Finance Law in 2009 Race for Mayor
by Jerry Kann
NEW YORK — In December 2011 I filed a formal complaint against the campaign of 2009 mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg. The complaint demonstrates that Bloomberg appears to have violated New York City’s campaign finance law.
All candidates for City office — whether they are self-financing (such as Bloomberg) or are seeking City matching funds — must report campaign expenditures to the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). The Bloomberg campaign failed to report an expenditure of over $1 million in October 2009. The Campaign Finance Act (available online at http://www.nyccfb.info/act-program/CFACT.htm?sm=press_ap2) states that this lapse is “punishable as a class A misdemeanor.”
Yet the CFB closed my complaint on October 18, much as the Board closed and dismissed a similar complaint against Bloomberg filed by the campaign of 2009 mayoral candidate William Thompson. In Thompson’s case, the Board found that Bloomberg could not be held accountable for his actions because the CFB had “never previously clarified” a provision of the campaign finance law that in fact is very clearly written and easy to understand. In my case, the Board simply re-stated its earlier, very strange decision that they would not be holding any candidate who ran for City office in 2009 (including Bloomberg) responsible for violating that part of the law. I argued in my complaint that this very generous enforcement of the law is unjustified, and I still think so.
Bloomberg made a “contribution” of $1.2 million to the Independence Party of New York State in the fall of 2009, $1.1 million of which was meant to pay political consultant John Haggerty for a poll-watching operation on Election Day. Haggerty never carried out the operation but instead simply pocketed the first installment of his payment. He was tried and convicted of grand larceny late last year.
Haggerty’s lawyer, former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, argued prior to the trial that if Haggerty defrauded anyone it was not Michael Bloomberg so much as the Independence Party, which appears to have arranged to keep $100,000 of the $1.2 million.
Regarding Bloomberg’s role in the affair, New YorkCounty (Manhattan) District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has said: “Our inquiry has…determined no criminal misconduct has been accomplished by the mayor.” Around the time that I saw that statement in the New York Daily News, I called the prosecutor on the case, Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel, who was requesting that Bloomberg not have to testify at Haggerty’s trial. (The judge ruled against him, and Bloomberg did testify.) I was curious about what interest the D.A.’s office would have in keeping Bloomberg off the witness stand. I didn’t get very far with my questions before Seidel said, “I’m not going to discuss this case with you, and that’s that,” and hung up.
The CFB told me in January that my complaint would be “folded into” the Board’s audit of the Mayor’s 2009 campaign. I learned from the CFB last week that the audit is still ongoing. The CFB completed the audit of Bloomberg’s 2005 campaign in April 2007 — which means the current audit has already taken about twice as long to do and still is not finished.
The case is analyzed in detail in the 3½-page complaint, which can be accessed at:
What’s crucially important here is the whole idea of equality before the law. Why should we have laws on the books at all if they aren’t going to be enforced, or if they are used against some people but not others? It’s pointless, in a case like this, to shake your head and say, “There oughta be a law.” There is a law. It just needs to be enforced.
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[Note: Readers can simply comment here on the blog, of course, rather than write to the personal e-mail address in the line above, which appeared in the original paper–that is, print–version of this story.–JK]