CIVIC CENTER — City Campaign Finance Board members called on the City Council Wednesday to pass legislation that would impose greater regulations on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York and other nonprofits that work in close coordination with political candidates and can fundraise without restrictions.
The five-member board said that such legislation is needed to close a loophole that allows these nonprofits to circumvent campaign finance laws intended to limit contributions to city candidates, particularly from donors who have business before the city.
“We have all seen a concerning increase in activity by organizations that face no limits on what they can raise and spend at the city and state level in recent years,” the board said in a statement. “The board will not allow candidates to sidestep contribution and expenditure limits by outsourcing essential campaign activities to these coordinated organizations.”
The board said the legislation should cap donations to these nonprofits and that any reform should force them to make more comprehensive financial disclosures and submit to audits.
The members pointed to the Campaign for One New York’s lack of transparency. The nonprofit doesn’t make its lists of donors and expenses readily available for viewing on an independent website, and, as DNAinfo New York reported, it has omitted some of its contributors in the financial disclosures it has made.
The board called for the legislation as part of two advisory opinions it passed during its Wednesday meeting — one of which cleared de Blasio’s re-election campaign of coordinating with the Campaign for One New York on how it spent the money it raised.
An investigation by the board determined that the nonprofit’s expenses from 2014 didn’t have an affect on de Blasio’s 2017 re-election campaign since it was three years ago. However, the board said it would continue to monitor the nonprofit to see if any of its work in 2015 helps the mayor's re-election campaign.
The investigation stemmed from the board’s own inquiry and a complaint by good government group Common Cause in February that accused the nonprofit of creating a pay-for-favors atmosphere in City Hall and violating campaign finance laws.
De Blasio created the Campaign for One New York in 2014 to advocate and lobby for his policy agenda. The nonprofit shut down in early 2016 after increased scrutiny.
The nonprofit had been run by former de Blasio campaign workers and has spent its money on public relations and consulting firms that the de Blasio campaign used in 2013. De Blasio has also solicited donations on behalf of the nonprofit — some from individuals with business before the city.
One of the nonprofit's main policy pushes in 2014 was the creation of free pre-kindergarten classes across the city. Its advocacy included commercials and robo-calls featuring de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray.
The de Blasio campaign said it was pleased with the outcome of the Campaign Finance Board’s probe.
“The Campaign for One New York was formed to advocate for New York City’s progressive policy agenda,” de Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan said. “It never engaged in any election campaign activity for any candidate and shut down more than a year and a half before next year’s election.”
Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause, said she was disappointed by the Campaign Finance Board’s determination, but hoped the City Council would bring reform.
“I think the board was right that the situation points to a real gap in our campaign finance law,” she said after the board’s meeting. “The onus is now on the City Council to close the gap — and on the mayor to sign a bill if it’s passed.”