Those phrases from a complaint by good-government advocate Common Cause weren’t directed at the Koch brothers’ super PACs, but at nonprofit groups allied with Mayor Bill de Blasio, the clean government progressive who loudly decried Citizens United.
The mayor’s allies have built a network of nonprofits to support his agenda. Those groups operate outside of the city’s campaign finance system, but that’s nothing new in the era of big money in government.
So why are these groups suddenly the focus of so much attention? And why is one group, in particular, getting so much scrutiny?
What is the Campaign for One New York?
The Campaign for One New York has employed some of the mayor’s advisers and has pushed for some of his most high-profile priorities, from universal pre-k to affordable housing, in addition to championing his national presence.
Yet its donors include groups and individuals with wide-ranging business with the City of New York — including the American Federation of Teachers, developer Two Trees Management and supporters of the effort to ban horse carriages in Central Park.
Not-for-profit status lets donors to the group circumvent New York City’s strict campaign finance laws. Normally, campaigns cannot accept donations over $400 for those with business before the city. In 2014, the AFT gave the group $350,000. The healthcare workers union 1199/SEIU gave $250,000 in 2015.
The vast sums are only part of the problem here. Those numbers are only available by contacting the group’s public relations firm — a step most citizens don’t know to take. Legally, the group does not have to abide by strict campaign finance disclosure mandates.
Common Cause says that the non-profit arrangement obscures “who has influence and access to the policymaking process.”
It’s hard to believe that big donors are writing checks solely due to their burning fervor for universal pre-k and more equitable housing.
The mayor says . . .
De Blasio maintains that the groups are “doing things that matter for New York City,” and that he is working within both the spirit and the letter of the law in terms of full disclosure. He dismisses comparisons to the Koch brothers and dark money due to the beneficence of the nonprofits’ works.
He also points to other pols using non-profit groups to support political agendas — not only his predecessor in NYC but also the current governor.
He’s not wrong on this front — yesterday marked the start of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide RV trip stumping for a $15 minimum wage, supported by the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, whose donors have not been disclosed. The Andrew Cuomo-aligned Committee to Save New York used the same legal structure.
Moral of the story
Groups like this have no place in City Hall business. Lack of transparency creates an impression of and possibility for pay-to-play politics. Common Cause says they felt obliged to act now given the recent proliferation of these groups.
Donations to the mayor should go to his campaign, where they belong. The mayor says that full disclosure is his aim, but the website for United for Affordable NYC, a new nonprofit supporting his housing agenda, doesn’t mention that it received some of its funding from the Campaign for One New York, though it lists some mutual “supporters.”
And the Campaign for One New York itself?
It doesn’t have a website.
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