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De Blasio's 'Dark Money' Nonprofit to Close, Officials Say

By Jeff Mays | March 17, 2016 2:20pm
 The nonprofit group that Mayor Bill de Blasio used to raise millions of dollars to promote his political agenda is closing.
The nonprofit group that Mayor Bill de Blasio used to raise millions of dollars to promote his political agenda is closing.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — The nonprofit group that Mayor Bill de Blasio used to raise millions of dollars to promote his political agenda is closing.

A spokesman for the group, Campaign for One New York, said the nonprofit is suspending operations, will stop raising funds, and will start to wind down.

Speaking Thursday at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, de Blasio said the nonprofit had accomplished what it was created to do: Push through proposals such as universal pre-K and his zoning changes to help create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

With 27 months in office, almost 70,000 kids attend free, full-day pre-K and the City Council is expected to approve modified versions of de Blasio's zoning changes next week.

"The Campaign for One New York was created to address income inequality," said de Blasio who called his pre-K initiative a "success" and said his affordable housing plan was "on the verge of a great victory."

De Blasio added that "the work is done."

The move comes just weeks after good government and tenant and labor groups called for de Blasio to stop using outside nonprofits to raise unlimited amounts of cash, much of it from companies or individuals with business before the city.

Unlike other political fundraising entities, the group was not subject to the same campaign finance laws requiring disclosure of how the money is spent or imposing limits on the amounts that can be donated. The Campaign for One New York voluntarily disclosed its donors through January.

News of the group's closure was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

In February, Common Cause New York asked the Conflicts of Interests Board and the Campaign Finance Board to investigate the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC, another nonprofit the mayor uses to push his goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024.

Companies in the real estate, taxi and waste management industries have contributed anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 to the Campaign for One New York which then sent some of the money to United for Affordable NYC.

In its letter, Common Cause said the practice "blurs the line between campaign activity and the Mayor's function as the head of New York City government" and "raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process."

The group praised the fund's closure Thursday, saying that it did not "accept that secret money is a necessary function of the modern mayoralty," according to a statement from the group's executive director, Susan Lerner.

"It does not serve the public interest to have a shadow government, serving only to breed mistrust and confusion among voters. This is the right decision which we hope others will follow," she continued.

A spokesman for United for Affordable NYC said Friday the group would also wind down following the City Council's vote on de Blasio's zoning plans.

"Its purpose was for to push for the mayor's affordable housing plan and get a positive vote," said the spokesman.

Both modified zoning proposals easily passed out of two City Council committees Thursday and are expected to be approved by the full body next week.

Common Cause said their call for an investigation "still holds" because they'd like "guidance" on how to deal with the overall issue of this type of nonprofit going forward. Both the Conflicts of Interests Board and the Campaign Finance Board are considering the group's request.

De Blasio has strongly defended the nonprofits, saying that the Campaign for One New York provided disclosure and that his advisors who are also lobbyists were not allowed to lobby him.

"This notion – I’ve rejected it long before and I’ll reject it again – people provide donations and those donations are to achieve a specific policy outcome, and that’s the end of the story from my point of view," the mayor said Friday on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.

"Everything we do in government we have to decide on the merits each time, and I think I have plenty of examples under my belt of challenging different powerful interests in this city and demanding different realities from them," the mayor added.

The mayor has also drawn a moral distinction between his use of the nonprofits and how conservatives such as the Koch brothers have given to political action committees.

"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," de Blasio said previously.