The state ethics panel probing Mayor Bill de Blasio's nonprofit has subpoenaed the Mayor's Office seeking correspondence between the nonprofit, the mayor, his aides, donors, and consultants, according to a New York Times report citing anonymous sources.
The subpoena by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which enforces state lobbying laws, expands the ongoing investigation. According to the paper, the probe is focused in part on whether the nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, constituted an arm of the de Blasio administration, making the unfettered donations businesspeople poured into it improper contributions by people seeking access to the city's executive, in violation of lobbying laws.
The Mayor's Office has stressed that it sought advice from the city Conflict of Interest Board when forming the nonprofit in late 2013. It initially kept its donors secret, as so-called social welfare nonprofits are allowed to, until, under pressure from the media and good-government groups, it started sending out donor lists to reporters upon request. The nonprofit suspended operations in March.
The state commission, JCOPE, is currently directed by Seth Agata, a former lawyer for Governor Andrew Cuomo, and its previous two directors also had Cuomo ties. The governor has for two years been trying to embarrass and undermine de Blasio for having the chutzpah to complain about his vindictive and Machiavellian political tactics, and throughout its fight against the JCOPE inquiry, the mayor and his surrogates have alleged that it is politically motivated.
The reaction to the latest subpoena was no exception.
"We are sad, but not surprised, that JCOPE’s year-and-a-half-long political fishing expedition is continuing, nor are we shocked that they have invented yet another frivolous legal theory to justify its existence," Laurence Laufer, counsel to the Campaign for One New York, told the Times.
Last month, an Albany Supreme Court judge rejected the now-shuttered nonprofit's attempts to nullify an earlier JCOPE subpoena, ruling that the group must turn over material on its finances and communications, including with the mayor.
The ethics investigation is one of several official probes into the mayor's political fundraising, including by agencies at the city, state, and federal level.
The Campaign for One New York, along with two similar nonprofits, raked in more than $4 million and promoted key elements of the mayor's policy agenda, such as universal prekindergarten and a zoning scheme to incentivize construction of below-market rate housing.The city Campaign Finance Board concluded its investigation into the fundraising this summer by stating that the fundraising was legal under existing campaign finance law, but that 95 percent of its donations would have been improper if looked at as campaign contributions, and that it "defies common sense" that there aren't rules in place to limit contributions to nonprofits that are run by and for politicians, even if the contributions come outside of campaign season.
There is one other wrinkle that's relevant to mention here.
As the Times writes:
The Campaign for One New York is what the Internal Revenue Service characterizes as a social welfare nonprofit, which means that it was supposed to work primarily to promote the common good and welfare of an entire community. Such nonprofits, which include groups like the Sierra Club and the National Right to Life Committee, are allowed to participate in politics — as long as politics does not become their primary focus.
In its incorporation papers and documents filed with the I.R.S., the group said that its purpose was to “advocate for One New York and New York City by informing the public and policy makers about legislative and public policy options.”