Friday, March 17, 2017

NYC Mayor Cunningly Sidestepped Election Laws So That He Could Break Them

Bill de Blasio

De Blasio Proves That Some Laws Are Made to Be Unbreakable

Among the gold medals awarded to Bill de Blasio on Thursday was one for limbo-dancing his way past election laws so he and his allies could funnel money into 2014 state legislative campaigns at a rate 10 times the supposed limit.
Money was not given directly to candidates, but to party committees, which can receive bigger piles of cash. Those committees could then legally transfer the inflated donations to candidates.
It makes a sham of the limits, but Mr. de Blasio did not invent these evasive moves. In just about every single competitive legislative race in this century someone, Republican or Democrat, has used precisely the same contortions. Perhaps because the mayor has a talent for annoying people — he would say, the right people — the state Board of Elections sicced the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. on him a year ago.
On Thursday, the prosecutor said the de Blasio operation “enabled an unprecedented amount of money to flow” to individual campaigns, but did so without violating the limits on contributions.
This comes down, then, not to behavior, but to scale. That is why the gold medal goes to the de Blasio team, which was up against a field of strong contenders that included Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the state committees of both the Republican and Democratic parties. All of them engaged in versions of the de Blasio team’s tactic of washing big pots of money through state or county party committees in support of individual candidates.
Mr. Vance, in a letter to the Board of Elections, suggested that the de Blasio team’s activities contradicted the “spirit and intent” of the campaign laws.
For this to be true, one would have to believe that the legislature really intended there to be actual limits on how much money could be given to candidates. Mr. Vance is correct that the legislature created limits, but it simultaneously built ways around them; its “spirit and intent” is like the public piety of a Mafia hitman who makes the sign of the cross when passing a church on his way to work.
Money washed through a county committee is not subject to the limits, thanks to an exception in Article 12-124 of the state election law. Other exceptions have made it possible for the real estate industry to own an entire chamber of the state legislature, lock, stock and gavel.
Limited liability companies, or L.L.C.s, are essentially paper companies used as proxies to let big companies get around limits by channeling money through them. Common Cause New York, the good government group, has reported that tens of millions have been funneled to the state Republicans through L.L.C.s since 1996, when the Board of Elections ruled that an L.L.C. was no different under the law than a person. Consider this testimony from an executive at a major real estate company, Glenwood, during the 2015 federal corruption trial of Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the state senate.
Q. Since you’ve been at Glenwood, how much money have the L.L.C.s donated in contributions?
A. In total?
Q. In total, approximately.
A. Ten million.
In another context, Alan Vinegrad, a former federal prosecutor, once said, “‘Everybody does it’ is not a defense.’ It’s a confession.”
Mr. de Blasio received news Thursday morning that he and his allies would not be prosecuted by Mr. Vance’s office or by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which was investigating a separate matter, the legality of favors done by Mr. de Blasio for people who made contributions to a nonprofit run by his associates.
Prosecutors carry the responsibility to enforce laws. They are not in charge of good and evil. Nor are they civic hygienists. Nevertheless, Mr. Vance made the useful suggestion that the Board of Elections could issue guidance on the tricks used by Team de Blasio — and prominent others, unnamed by Mr. Vance.
Certain practices deserve our attention not because they are against the law, but precisely because they are legal. Moments after the prosecutors’ announcements, Brian Lehrer of WNYC radio spoke to the mayor on the air.
“Were you looking to get money to the hands of those candidates through the state committees and understanding the spirit of the law but trying to just stay within the letter of the law – not caring about the spirit of the law?” Mr. Lehrer asked.
Brian, respectfully, I think that’s an outrageous question,” Mr. de Blasio replied.

Mr. de Blasio loves saddling up on the highest horse he can find. It can be a long way down.

No Charges, but Harsh Criticism for de Blasio’s Fund-Raising

Saturday, January 14, 2017

New York State May Be Sued For Voting Violations by the United States Department of Justice

re-posted from the New York Times and Parentadvocates.org:



      

U.S. Threatens to Sue New York State Over Voting Violations

The Justice Department has notified New York State officials that it may sue the state over what it says are widespread failures to comply with a provision of federal voter registration law that requires state drivers’ license applications to double as applications for voter registration, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.

In the letter, dated Jan. 6, the Justice Department lays out how the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles violates the law. The lapses “deprive numerous New Yorkers of important voter registration opportunities required under federal law,” according to the letter, which was signed by Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department.

At D.M.V. offices throughout the state, a Justice Department investigation found, drivers’ license applications do not also serve as voter registration forms unless applicants request it, and the option is sometimes closed even to those who make a request.

The letter said that even among D.M.V. offices that allow voter registration, some do not pass registration forms to election officials in the time required by law. That finding echoes those described by the office of the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, in a report on voting issues surrounding the 2016 presidential primary.

Applications to renew drivers’ licenses online are also supposed to automatically serve as voter registration applications, the letter said, but they do not. When drivers submit a change of address to the D.M.V. online, that notification is also required to function as a change of address submission for voter registration, but in New York, the letter said, it does not.

The D.M.V. offers online voter registration separately from its other applications, but that is “no substitute” for combining the voter registration and drivers’ license application processes, the letter said.

Though Ms. Gupta has authorized a lawsuit, the state and the Justice Department could resolve the issue before it reaches a courtroom. The letter said the Justice Department will delay filing a complaint while it discusses the matter with state officials. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on Friday.

Joe Morrissey, a spokesman for the D.M.V., said: “State laws and policies clearly require auto-combining of drivers’ license applications and voter registration applications. D.M.V. looks forward to speaking with D.O.J. to determine what, if any, concerns exist.”

The letter to the D.M.V. arrived a few days before the Justice Department asked to join a lawsuit over what it said were dysfunctional registration procedures at the New York City Board of Elections, which has been accused of mistakenly dropping more than 117,000 eligible Brooklyn voters from the registration rolls before the 2016 primary.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a series of proposals that he said would reform how New Yorkers vote, including instituting early voting along with automatic and same-day registration.