running bill

MAYORAL MATH: De Blasio Claims Campaign Video Isn’t a Campaign Expense

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower, May 13, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower, May 13, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his long-shot bid for the White House May 16 with a three-minute video in which he declared: “There’s plenty of money in this country — it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Now, money paid for the video that launched de Blasio’s campaign and is featured on his campaign website isn’t considered campaign spending — at least according to the mayor’s campaign team.

When de Blasio announced his candidacy, a spokesperson told reporters his campaign would be paying for the video — making it an expense that should have appeared in federal campaign filings released this week.

But other records released this week show that a state political action committee de Blasio created to help Democrats get elected in New York foot the bill for the video.

As THE CITY revealed Thursday, de Blasio’s NY Fairness PAC recently doubled as an exploratory committee for his presidential run — an arrangement that Federal Election Commission officials and election law experts called unusual.

The PAC paid Freedomland Media roughly $19,600 in mid-May for the campaign video — a bill the mayor’s 2020 presidential team insisted was an exploratory expense rather than a campaign cost.

“When Freedomland initially began working with Fairness PAC, it was not clear whether the mayor was going to run. Freedomland was set to produce a video regardless of whether or not the mayor ran,” Will Baskin-Gerwitz, campaign spokesperson, said in an email Friday.

De Blasio dodged questions Friday about the partnership between his campaign and the state committee, which allowed him to spend more money on his presidential bid while reporting fewer donors to the FEC, THE CITY’s analysis of state and federal campaign records shows.

“I just can’t give you legalistic answers and technical answers — it’s just not what I do,” de Blasio told reporters at a news conference in Brooklyn. “Talk to the campaign. Again, everything was done with the advice every step of the way of lawyers who are experts in the area and everything was done according to that.”

In mid-May, the presidential campaign also reported paying Freedomland Media roughly $19,600 for production services. The payment was marked as an exploratory expense, FEC records show. The campaign paid the company the same amount again in mid-July.

Baskin-Gerwitz did not respond when asked for clarification how much the video cost.

PACs and Pals

It’s not just the NY Fairness PAC that’s serving multiple purposes.

Some de Blasio campaign employees are intertwined with the state PAC and the federal Fairness PAC the mayor established last year to help elect progressive Democrats across the country. The federal PAC also helps fund the travels of the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray.

In late May, the NY Fairness PAC amended its registration with the state Board of Election, naming two de Blasio campaign officials as having operational control over the committee, according to documents obtained by THE CITY.

De Blasio 2020 finance director Michael Giaccio and campaign treasurer Jon Paul Lupo replaced the mayor and consultant Daniel Hausman on the state PAC. A Washington-based FEC compliance consultant, Judy Zamore, also was added to the NY Fairness PAC, allowing her to sign checks.

Giaccio also is the assistant treasurer for the federal Fairness PAC, as well as its “custodian of records,” FEC documents show.

Raising Money — and Spending It

The mayor’s FEC filing indicated he’s raised $1.1 million and has spent $359,000 since kicking off his presidential run. His NY Fairness PAC, established last summer, raised nearly $305,000 and spent almost $336,000 between mid-January and mid-July.

As THE CITY reported Thursday, the mayor’s NY Fairness PAC spent $68,000 on pre-campaign polling that wasn’t reported to the FEC. The de Blasio campaign quickly promised to amend its federal disclosures.

THE CITY identified another $55,000 that de Blasio’s state PAC paid for digital fundraising and marketing. The campaign said some of that expense would appear in a future federal filing.

THE CITY also identified 17 donors who contributed the maximum $2,800 to de Blasio’s presidential primary run, while giving $2,500 to his NY Fairness PAC. Financial disclosure forms for his federal Fairness PAC aren’t due until July 31.

Michael Columbo, a former FEC attorney, said that spending by de Blasio’s NY Fairness PAC in the lead-up to his presidential bid amounted to “seemingly excessive state PAC contributions to the federal campaign.”

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