NEW YORK, N.Y. - A New York Times article last week revealed that federal prosecutors are investigating New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign practices, which included raising money for Democratic candidates in Putnam County, prompting local elected officials and candidates to call for comprehensive campaign finance reform.
The article noted the prosecutors are looking to see if de Blasio attempted to avoid campaign contribution limits by using loopholes in campaign laws. The investigation seeks to discover if the contributions solicited by de Blasio were funneled toward smaller county committees, which have no limits on contributions; however, individual candidates do have limits.
State Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown) said that law may be a loophole but it’s not a defense.
“The LLC loophole is a straw man argument for straw donors, the real problem is that the self-dealing has to end,” Murphy said. “No one should be misusing their office for personal gain. We have an obligation to do the right thing and as a member of the ethics committee, this isn’t about political posturing, it is about improving behavior to put the public interest ahead of self-interest, which is where it should be.”
The Times article said that after having raised less than $10,000 in 10 years, in one instance, “the Putnam County Democratic Committee, took in over $671,000 in donations in October 2014, including $100,000 from a bus contractor, and contributions of $10,000 to $100,000 from groups that received millions in city contracts and also gave to the de Blasio campaign’s charities that are currently under federal investigation.”
At that time, Putnam County Democratic Chair Ken Harper told Mahopac News that the donations were unsolicited; however, they were steered to Democratic candidates that same week. In an interview with the Times, Putnam County Democratic Vice-Chairman Louis Epstein seemed to confirm the illegality of the donations.
“We were told, before we got it, how it was going to be used,” he told the paper.
United States Attorney Preet Bharara announced he has launched a criminal investigation into the unsolicited campaign donations to the Putnam County Democratic Committee.
“We called this two years ago, and said to follow the money down the Saw Mill Parkway right to Gracie Mansion,” Murphy said. “We knew this was a problem. To the U.S. Attorney, we appreciate all your efforts, we were the target of this and it was disgusting what happened.”
Murphy complained that the State Board of Elections has been deadlocked on closing the so-called LLC loophole, and has failed to investigate the original complaints about de Blasio’s fundraising.
“Few could have imagined that nearly two years ago, when [Mahopac News] broke the story...it would have gone this far,” Murphy said a statement. “Redistributing donations to evade contribution limits is wrong. Pay-to-play is wrong. We need to get to the bottom of how far this goes, even if it is to the top. District Attorney [Bob] Tendy is a no-nonsense type of guy, and in light of the confession made today in the Times, a local investigation is warranted.”
Putnam County Republican County Committee Chairman Anthony Scannapieco Jr. said that the potential Democratic State Senate candidates should distance themselves from the scandal.
Debbie Carter Costello, who is vying with Andy Falk to receive the Democratic nomination to challenge Murphy in the general election, said that Scanapiecco’s claims that the Democrats haven’t called for an investigation into the matter is inaccurate.
“We have actually called for the U.S. attorney to leave no stone unturned,” she said.
Carter Costello added that New York campaign finance laws are in desperate need of reform.
“That’s why I will push hard for closing the LLC loophole, increased reporting requirements and other means of limiting the influence of special interests in our state government,” she said. “Preet Bharara and his staff have done a masterful job of exposing and prosecuting corruption throughout the state. I encourage the U.S. attorney to continue pursuit of the investigation where ever it may lead, and hope local officials do nothing to interfere with it.”
Falk, too, said he supports comprehensive campaign finance reform.
“We are all sick of hearing stories of corruption and people bending the rules until they break,” he said. “[If elected] I will call out wrongdoing wherever I see it, Republicans or Democrats who are looking out for their own interests over the people of New York State need an ethical watchdog and I will fight with the people of the state for an ethical and affordable New York.”