Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters yesterday that neither he nor anyone in his administration has broken campaign finance laws. Unless there is evidence of illegality in his handling of campaign funds, we take him at his word.
But saying that all of his dealings were within the letter of the law is not enough. It’s not enough to say, as de Blasio’s campaign lawyer did, that others have done the same thing. It’s not enough to claim there is political motivation behind the accusations.
Our laws to prevent government from being bought by the highest bidders are too porous. That must change.
There’s still plenty we don’t know in the de Blasio matters. What we do know is cause for deep concern. A re-invigorated state Board of Elections accused de Blasio of “willful and flagrant” violations of election law. The state board found that as part of de Blasio’s push for Democratic control of the State Senate in 2014, he and his campaign team solicited donations for several candidates. The donors, including unions, developers and New York City businessmen, were directed to contribute to two upstate county committees and to the state Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Some checks were even labeled “donation per Mayor.” The committees could then transfer the funds to Senate candidates in Ulster and Putman counties. The moves allowed for higher contributions, skirting limits on individual candidates.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. confirmed that he’s investigating. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara also may be taking a look. Besides the Senate race, de Blasio is facing scrutiny over a nursing home-turned-planned luxury condominium, as well as two businessmen who have deep hooks into the NYPD. The criminal probes will take their own courses, but there is more to do right now.
The State Legislature again has a chance to fix the campaign finance system by lowering dollar limits and by closing county committee loopholes. The pay-to-play culture has infested local government as much as it has the state system. When does it get to the breaking point? Perhaps that time is now.