conflicts of interest

Mayor de Blasio’s Defunct Fundraising Group Faces Ongoing State Ethics Probe

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the State of the City address on the Upper West Side, Jan. 10, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the State of the City address on Jan. 10, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s defunct nonprofit fundraising group is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state’s ethics watchdog, THE CITY has learned.

The Campaign for One New York, which raised millions from individuals doing business with de Blasio’s administration, began operations as the mayor arrived at City Hall in 2014. It took in $4.3 million for his pet causes before shutting down in early 2016.

But during its brief life, the campaign inspired multiple investigations — including a long-running probe by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

Last year, the commission settled two cases as part of that investigation, including leveling a $40,000 fine against a lobbyist for improperly providing gifts to public officials. The lobbyist, James Capalino, told JCOPE de Blasio had directly solicited his support for Campaign for One New York, and that the mayor ultimately raised $100,000 in donations from him and his clients.

JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure confirmed to THE CITY on Thursday that the ethics commission’s long-running examination of de Blasio’s fundraising for the Campaign for One New York is still alive.

“There were two cases that have been settled that arose from that and the investigation into the Campaign for One New York is ongoing,” McClure said.

Conflicts Raised by Report

On Wednesday, THE CITY revealed that the city Department of Investigation determined in October that de Blasio had violated city conflict-of-interest rules by soliciting donations from multiple individuals actively seeking favors from City Hall. The report found that the mayor had been warned not to seek donations in such cases.

The DOI report, released under a Freedom of Information Law request from THE CITY filed in January, marked the first official finding that the mayor had violated the ethics rules that apply to all city workers.

In 2017, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney closed an investigation of de Blasio’s fundraising for Campaign for One New York without filing criminal charges – but officials said they found evidence the mayor took favorable action for some of the donors.

Amid the new revelation of the DOI ethics violation, de Blasio deflected a barrage of questions from reporters Thursday at an unrelated news conference by repeating his mantra that the matter was closed.

“All these actions have been looked at, no further action taken and that’s all there is to it,” he said.

De Blasio insisted he’d done nothing wrong and bristled when asked whether his fundraising was ethical given the DOI’s findings: “I feel absolutely that I’ve acted within all the right standards throughout, and everything has been looked at and addressed.”

The DOI report noted no one in the mayor’s office or the Campaign for One New York initially bothered to check whether the possible donors the mayor was hitting up had business with the city.

Johnson Weighs in

On Thursday, de Blasio was questioned about whether he has a better system for vetting donors with his Fairness PAC, a political action committee he set up this year to fund travel as he explores a possible run for the White House.

He said he’s promised not to accept money from entities on the list of people doing business with the city, and has a proper system in place to vet donors.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Thursday the DOI finding showed the importance of all city workers adhering to the city’s code of ethics.

“I think it’s a big deal because it’s important that we always ensure that we create further trust in government,” he said. “It’s our first and foremost job to conduct ourselves in a way that comports with the guidelines that are set up for us as elected officials and when we have done something that is either technically wrong or just doesn’t look right to talk about it in a fully transparent way.”

Asked whether the mayor should apologize, Johnson said, “I’m never going to tell someone when they should. I mean, I think people know maybe when they should apologize.”

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