NEW YORK CITY — A good government group wants the Conflicts of Interests Board and the Campaign Finance Board to investigate Mayor Bill de Blasio's use of outside entities to raise money for the causes he advocates.
De Blasio uses non-profit groups the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC to raise money to advocate for universal pre-K and his plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.
The groups can accept unlimited amounts of "dark money," much of it from companies with business before the city, but are not subject to the same campaign finance laws requiring other entities to disclose how the money is spent or imposing limits on the amounts that can be donated.
Common Cause New York says the practice "blurs the line between campaign activity and the Mayor's function as the head of New York City government" and "has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process."
Companies and individuals in the taxi, real estate and waste management fields, all with business before the city, have contributed anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 to the Campaign for One New York, which has sent some of that money to Affordable NYC.
"It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics to the detriment of the public interest," Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, wrote in a letter.
In Lerner's letter, the group also questions whether de Blasio is violating the law by having advisors who are also lobbyists who represent entities with business before the city.
De Blasio, speaking at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn Monday, said the "allegation doesn't make sense to me."
The mayor said that there is "a long history of coalitions forming to achieve policy goals, whether it was the fight for marriage equality or the fight for increasing minimum wage," and "the idea that organizations would come together to fight for things like full day pre-K for all or affordable housing programs that can reach hundreds of thousands of people, I think is understandable and makes sense."
The groups he is involved with provide full disclosure and he doesn't allow his advisors who are also lobbyists to lobby him, the mayor claimed.
"What we've said from the beginning is anything supporting this administration's goals or anything I'm involved in must be fully disclosed. I've felt like that is the crucial question in anything. Is it disclosed or not?" de Blasio said.
He later said, "If someone is acting as an ongoing advisor to me, of course it's not appropriate to lobby me and that's one of those things we create some separation on."
De Blasio also distinguished between the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations that flow from contributors such as the Koch brothers to political campaigns and political action committees around the country and the donations his groups receive.
"I think these are night and day realities," de Blasio said.
"The aspirations were to undermine, in many cases, the democratic process and work against the needs and interest of the people. The issues at hand here are campaigns fighting for more affordable housing, campaigns that fight for pre-K for all, this is an entirely different construct."
In a statement, Common Cause said they do not "accept that dark money is a necessary function of the modern mayoralty."