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Mayor Broke Law But Can't Be Charged Because His Lawyer OK'd It, DA Says

By Janon Fisher | March 16, 2017 12:43pm | Updated on March 17, 2017 7:44pm
 Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance concluded his investigation into possible campaign law violations by Mayor Bill de Blasio, determining that no laws were broken.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance concluded his investigation into possible campaign law violations by Mayor Bill de Blasio, determining that no laws were broken.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio broke state law when he and his subordinates steered money towards Democratic state senate campaigns — but he can't be charged with a crime because his lawyer said it was OK, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

"After an extensive investigation, notwithstanding the [Board of Elections'] view that the conduct here may have violated the Election Law, this office has determined that the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel," DA Cyrus Vance.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan also concluded an investigation into the mayor's fundraising and determined on Thursday that no criminal charges would be brought.

The Manhattan DA probe began more than a year ago, on January 12, 2016, on a tip from the New York State Board of Elections chief enforcement office, which believed the mayor had skirted campaign fundraising law while trying to tip the state Senate toward a Democratic majority in the 2014 races.

Vance's team found that the mayor's director of intergovernmental affairs, Emma Wolfe, and state Democratic campaign strategist Neal Kwatra, among others, ran their plan past Laurence Laufer, de Blasio's 2013 campaign lawyer.

State election law prohibits unauthorized committees and their staff from working on behalf of political candidates or paying campaign bills, as well as limiting state Senate contributions to $10,300 in the general election. However, Laufer cleared their plan, which funneled cash to the county committees of the candidate to evade contribution caps, and relied heavily on City Hall staffers to raise between $6 and $8 million in funds at $200 per donor.

"Close staff and associates of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio... devised and implemented a plan to fund targeted State Senate races by soliciting contributions from unions and wealthy donors," Vance said his office was told by the Board of Elections.

The only part of de Blasio's team's plan that Laufer rejected was an effort by some of the donors, which included wealthy individuals and unions, to decide what their money paid for, according to Vance.

By steering the money from the state committee to county committees, the mayor's staff orchestrated a strategy that saw contributions to county parties balloon nearly 20 times previous fundraiser efforts, sometimes equaling more than $500,000 difference, Vance's office found.

None of the candidates funded under the strategy were elected, but if they had been, there would have been the perception of indebtedness toward the campaign donor, the DA added.

Vance said that because Laufer approved the plan, which was fully explained to the lawyer, de Blasio's team did not "willfully" violate campaign rules.

Laufer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, Vance said the Board of Elections could bring charges against Laufer and other members of the fundraising team in civil court, and he recommended that the BOE make political parties aware that anyone who attempts to carry out similar efforts will face charges.

Vance also suggested that the state Legislature act in preventing similar workarounds to campaign donation limits.

The mayor denied that he or his subordinates did anything wrong in their senate fundraising effort.

"We have been confident from the moment these reviews began that the actions of the mayor and our administration have always been within the law," the mayor's press secretary Eric Phillips said.

"The United States Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney have now put to rest any suggestion otherwise. We thank these prosecutors’ offices for conducting what were clearly diligent and exhaustive reviews — and for making public the conclusions of these probes. New Yorkers deserve honest, progressive government. With this mayor, they will always get it."

Vance's Letter to the BOE by DNAinfoNewYork on Scribd