conflicts of interest

De Blasio-Style Fundraising Tactics Now Subject to Fines

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 the Upper West Side, Jan. 10, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The kind of conflict-ridden fundraising Mayor de Blasio conducted on behalf of his former nonprofit group will soon be punishable by fines of up to $25,000 per violation, under new rules adopted Thursday.

The city Conflicts of Interest Board voted to codify rules that prohibit government officials from soliciting donations for city government-affiliated nonprofits from individuals with business pending before the city.

The new rules, which can’t be applied retroactively, will go into effect in about 40 days.

As THE CITY revealed last month, the Department of Investigation found the mayor improperly sought donations for his now-defunct Campaign for One New York from developers who had pending business with city agencies.

The Conflicts of Interest Board had cautioned lawyers for the Campaign for One New York in January 2014 that de Blasio was prohibited from such fundraising, based on prior advisory opinions by the board.

But those opinions aren’t enforceable — nor, as The New York Times noted this week, is a prohibition in the ethics section of the City Charter that says a public servant can’t engage in transactions that “conflict with the proper discharge of his or her official duties.”

Only conduct that’s explicitly prohibited by ethics rules is enforceable with disciplinary action, under the Charter.

But that all changes come late June, the Conflicts of Interest Board said in a news release Thursday, declaring: “The Board has now acted to fill this gap.”

Balance Sought in Fundraising

In a notice for a public hearing held last month about the rule changes, the Conflicts of Interest Board wrote it was weighing the benefits to the city from raising private dollars against the “potentially coercive effect of a public servant’s solicitations.”

“Setting this balance is essential to the Board’s mission,” the notice said.

The Conflicts of Interest Board received no public comments during the April hearing, and voted 5-to-0 Thursday to adopt the new rules.

In its news release, the Board pointed to “the great public interest” in the outcome of the DOI probe, which was closed in October. In April, THE CITY obtained a heavily redacted version of the DOI’s report on the case, via a Freedom of Information Law request.

Illustration of redacted text from DOI report
Illustration of redacted text from DOI report Photo: Kazi Awal/THE CITY

The Board emphasized it’s not allowed to disclose whether it’s taken action against any city employee until it “makes a final finding of a violation concerning that individual.”

The Board does have the option of sending a “private warning letter” in some cases — something it did 62 times to city employees last year, according to Conflict of Interest Board documents.

Neither the Board nor de Blasio will say whether a private warning letter was issued to the mayor in response to the DOI findings.

Freddi Goldstein, a City Hall spokesperson, said: “The Campaign for One New York was a one-time entity focused on Pre-K for All and building the most aggressive affordable housing plan in city history. It ended three years ago and so did all related fundraising.”

As THE CITY recently reported, the mayor has continued to solicit donations from individuals with business matters pending before the city for his national “Fairness PAC.” However, the new Conflicts of Interest Board rules will not apply to political action committees.

Meanwhile, a state ethics probe into Campaign for One New York fundraising is ongoing.

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