NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio was fined almost $48,000 by the New York City Campaign Finance Board on Thursday for hiring a makeup artist for his family on election night, paying airfare for his son, Dante, to attend an Al Sharpton rally in Washington, D.C. and paying Hilltop Public Solutions, a firm owned by close mayoral adviser Nicholas Baldick, $168,000 in improper post-election spending.
De Blasio, who received $3.99 million in public matching funds for his successful 2013 campaign for mayor, was also ordered to return the $485.02 in public funds remaining in his campaign account.
The board found issue with the mayor's use of campaign funds to pay for his family to be involved in his campaign. The mayor prominently featured his wife, Chirlane McCray, and his children, Dante and Chiara, in campaign events and advertisements. Dante's afro became a hit after he did a campaign ad about the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk.
But the $550 the campaign spent on makeup services for his family on election night violates the rule against personal grooming, the board ruled.
The de Blasio campaign argued that the makeup was necessary in "the age of television" where those about to appear on air obtain makeup services so that their "appearance on camera will not be unflattering."
The board, however, said they have "consistently treated expenditures related to makeup as 'personal grooming.'"
A $298.70 Delta airline ticket was used for Dante to accompany his father to a 2010 Washington D.C. march and rally hosted by Sharpton to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Sharpton became one of de Blasio's strongest supporters in the African-American community.
The de Blasio campaign claimed that the trip was related to his campaign because the speech was an opportunity for Dante to see how the speech was a "visible manifestation of how the (C)andidate's life experience was resonant to the spirit of the occasion."
The de Blasio campaign also claimed that Dante's appearance at the march and rally was campaign-related in the same way that television ads featuring the candidate's family are because it "makes visible the candidate's life experience as a credential for public office."
The board rejected the argument and fined de Blasio $806 for both the makeup and airfare violations, among others.
The mayor's campaign also paid Hilltop Public Solutions $168,750 for post-election services. The board found $116,250 of that money to have been paid improperly.
De Blasio's campaign argued that Hilltop was the campaign's "general consultant" and was "intimately familiar with the workings" of the campaign and therefore "uniquely qualified" to oversee the post-election wind down of the campaign.
Both Baldick, who owns Hilltop and Bill Hyers, a principal at the firm who serves as de Blasio's campaign manager, have been listed by the mayor as "agents of the city," private individuals who offer him policy advice but whose communications with City Hall are shielded from public view.
Good government groups have called the designation fictional and de Blasio has refused to release the totality of communications with the six men he deemed as "agents of the city."
Two media organizations are suing the mayor to obtain the communications and de Blasio recently said that all future communications with his agents will be subject to public disclosure — but continued to refuse to release all his earlier correspondence.
The de Blasio campaign argued that Hyers' hiring by the firm displayed Hilltop's "unique" qualifications" to do the work of winding down the campaign and responding to the board's audit of the campaign. De Blasio also held that the fees paid were "nominal."
The board found that the de Blasio campaign failed to demonstrate that the work was for "routine activities involving nominal cost associated with winding up the campaign." The campaign failed to explain how Hilltop's work differed from that of other campaign workers and vendors during the same period and did not provide a detailed itemization of Hilltop's work.
The board fined de Blasio $21,159 for the violation.
The board also found issue with intermediary donations, which are contributions that an individual solicits from others and presents to a campaign.
For example, the campaign reported 19 donations from 13 individuals who all reported the same employer, Corizon or Corizon Correctional Medical.
The violation-plagued private company was in charge of medical care for New York City jails until June 2015 when the city dropped them as a provider and took over responsibility through the Health and Hospitals Corporation after investigators blamed Corizon or its providers for a series of deaths related to inadequate medical care in 2014, as reported by the Associated Press and DNAinfo New York.
The de Blasio campaign said the donations were received at a fundraiser by Una Clarke, a former Brooklyn councilwoman and the mother of congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
De Blasio appointed Una Clarke to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York in June 2015.
Intermediary donors are supposed to sign a statement revealing that they are collecting donations from friends or colleagues. The de Blasio campaign did not list a Clarke fundraiser among their list of fundraisers and failed to provide any documentation that such an event occurred.
The de Blasio campaign was fined $3,200 for the Clark violation and other intermediate violations.
Other fines include a $12,483 penalty for accepting 71 over-the-limit contributions. The de Blasio returned 59 of the donations in a timely manner and 12 in an untimely manner.
De Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan said they disagree with most of the board's findings.
“While we strongly disagree with many of the CFB’s findings, we are pleased that the 2013 campaign audit is now complete," said Levitan.
Levitan said the use of campaign money to pay for "makeup for election night appearances is clearly a campaign expense."
He called the Clarke donations part of a "small number of paperwork errors" during a campaign that received "nearly 20,000 contributions."
Levitan said the campaign "strongly" disagrees with the Hilltop ruling.
"The CFB’s own rules would prohibit Hilltop from not charging for this campaign wind-down work," said Levitan.
The Campaign Finance Board, in a statement, said the violation determinations "reflect the Board’s commitment to safeguarding" taxpayer money used for the matching donations program.
"The $38.2 million that the Board distributed in 2013 helped ensure cleaner, fairer elections in New York City," the board added.