NEW YORK CITY — The New York City Campaign Finance Board unanimously decided not to award Comptroller John Liu’s mayoral campaign millions in public funding on Monday, over what it said were pervasive questions about the campaign’s fundraising practices.
The board’s decision dealt a significant blow to a mayoral campaign that has struggled to overcome a federal investigation and trial over its fundraising practices, even as the candidate has maintained his innocence and no charges have been filed against him.
“[T]here is reason to believe that violations of the [campaign finance laws] and Board rules have been committed by his campaign,” Rev. Joseph Parkes, the board’s chair, said, reading from a statement. “The evidence suggests that the potential violations are serious and pervasive across the campaign’s fundraising.”
Liu’s rivals in the Democratic primary were awarded millions of dollars in public funds at the meeting, held at the board’s office in Lower Manhattan.
“What the staff is proposing is the death penalty for minor transgressions,” said Martin Connor, Liu’s lawyer, who testified ahead of the board’s vote Monday.
Later on Monday, Liu acknowledged that the boad's decision weakened his campaign moving forward, but insisted he would stay in the race.
"Over the past couple of years, I have taken body blow after body blow," Liu said. "But there is not going to be a knock down here."
Liu also pushed back on the board's characterization of his campaign as being rife with questionable fundraising actions. Despite being denied the millions of dollars in matching funds, Liu said the campaign remained strong thanks to its supporters.
"The strength has never been in the money; the strength of this campaign has always been in the people," he said.
In May, two Liu campaign staffers were convicted in Manhattan Federal Court of attempted wire fraud after an undercover FBI operation caught them trying to skirt campaign finance laws.
Connor testified to the board that the Liu campaign had returned 35 donations and maintained that Liu and his campaign knew nothing of the violations.
“There’s an old saying about where there’s smoke. Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s smoke and no fire,” Connor said. “There’s never been any testimony by anyone who has said that, ‘The Liu campaign knew what I did.’”
Arthur Cheliotes, whose union, the Communication Workers of America, is backing Liu, said after the board’s ruling that it would only serve to motivate Liu’s supporters.
“If they’re not going to finance his campaign, then we feel we don’t have to follow their rules,” Cheliotes said. “They ain’t see nothing yet.”