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Mole's Progressive Democrat

The Progressive Democrat Newsletter grew out of the frustration of the 2004 election. Originally intended for New York City progressives, its readership is now national. For anyone who wants to be alerted by email whenever this newsletter is updated (usually weekly), please send your email address and let me know what state you live in (so I can keep track of my readership).

Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

I am a research biologist in NYC. Married with two kids living in Brooklyn.

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  • Thursday, August 13, 2009

    NYC FOCUS: Working Families Party Scandal

    I have been watching the unfolding WFP scandal with some interest, but have been waiting to comment. Partly I wasn't at first sure if we were talking minor technicalities that WFP ran afoul of or if we are talking about a deeper pattern of disregard for campaign finance laws. I am now thinking it is a deeper pattern of disregard for the law, or at least an attempt to skirt the laws, that we are talking about.

    An article in City Hall News covers this developing scandal in considerable detail. Here is the breakdown they give of the scandal:

    A complicated web of coordinated activities, shared resources and staff, and quiet money transfers between the Working Families Party, a secretive private company called Data and Field Services and at least six current Council campaigns, as well as Bill de Blasio’s campaign for public advocate, appears to have found several ways around the strict city campaign finance laws. Upwards of a million dollars, and possibly more, are involved, with over $1.7 million in matching funds comprised of taxpayer dollars already disbursed and more are potentially at stake.

    There have long been assumptions and rumors of the collaboration between the Working Families Party (WFP) and its favored candidates, but never before has the scope of or intricate processes behind its joint activity been exposed to the degree made possible by an extensive review of public documents and close to 50 interviews with a range of key players conducted by City Hall over the last few days.

    The article goes on in great detail and is well worth reading.

    The candidates who are potentially caught up in this scandal are Bill de Blasio (running for, ironically, Public Advocate), and several city council candidates: Brad Lander, Debi Rose, Daniel Dromm, Lynn Schulman, Jumaane Williams, S.J. Jung, Jimmy Van Bramer. Each of these candidates are using WFP personnel and/or resources in a way that may well either violate or dodge existing campaign finance laws.

    I should note that one of the candidates caught up in this scandal, Daniel Dromm, I have endorsed. I don't know if I consider involvement in this scandal a deal breaker, but Dromm definitely is on thin ice with his WFP connections and involvement in this scandal is one strike for a candidate in my book. I like everything else about Dromm, but his ties to WFP do raise an eyebrow. Interestingly, another candidate that WFP and I agree on, John Liu, has NOT been mentioned in this WFP scandal, so perhaps he followed the rules in his connections with the WFP. I find this encouraging about Liu.

    Other candidates involved are opposing candidates I have endorsed. Brad Lander is running against my friend Josh Skaller. Lynn Schulman is running against my endorsed candidate Mel Gagarin.

    I also think it remains to be seen whether WFP and these candidates have actually violated the letter of the law or have merely violated the intent. Either way, it reflects poorly on WFP.

    Josh Skaller, running to replace Bill de Blasio in the City Council, has this to say about his opponent Brad Lander's role in the scandal:

    "Once again, we are disappointed to learn that a candidate has engaged in slush fund politics at the public's expense -- this time it's Brad Lander. Lander has allowed his Council campaign to be propped up by unethical and possibly illegal under-the-table funds, and the public might be awarding him taxpayer-generated matching funds regardless of this scandal.

    "Recent media reports confirm the intent of New York City's Campaign Finance Law has been violated through the creation of a for-profit company named Data and Field Services (DFS). DFS was created by the Working Families Party and an unknown amount of money has flowed through the Working Families Party and DFS to certain campaigns, including Brad Lander's.

    "My entire campaign I've been talking about real reform. I am proud to say that Democrats -- and all New Yorkers -- can track each of our contributions and expenditures to the penny through our filings with the Campaign Finance Board. But you can't do that with Lander's funds because his real expenditures -- and the real level of contributions from the Working Families Party -- are laundered through DFS. Lander has abused the public's trust and the evidence of an unholy relationship with the Working Families Party is quite plentiful.

    "Brad Lander talks about his reform credentials. Yet he has failed a critical test of leadership when it comes to his Council campaign. We cannot stop typical Democratic Party politics in Brooklyn if we have elected officials without the judgment and the guts to do the right thing. We cannot stop slush fund politics in the City Council if we have candidates like Lander who utilize slushy money to fuel their campaigns. If it's good enough during the campaign, we will see more dirty money when the new Council takes office.

    "It was my call to end slush funds that helped to put the City Council and a disgraced former elected official on the spot and stop the outrage. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Presumably a reference to the DiBrienza scandal] No other Council candidate in the 39th District joined me in making that call -- I stood alone. Then, it was my refusal to accept any contributions from developers that led other candidates to make the same pledge -- I was again the leader on this critical issue. Brad Lander got around to returning developer money he had already accepted.

    "Now, I am calling for the New York City Campaign Finance Board to rescind any funds provided to the Lander campaign until and unless a full accounting of the Lander finances has been provided both to the Board and to the public. New Yorkers deserve to know the truth. If violations are determined to have taken place, then appropriate action must be taken.

    "We don't need four more years of corruption in the City Council. We need independent Democrats who understand what democracy is supposed to look like. On September 15, Brooklynites can choose more of the same, or they can choose reform. A vote for me is a vote for real change."

    Over at Room 8 another blogger (whose identity or identities have been much discussed) has already written about supposed corrupt behavior by WFP, targeting Brad Lander in particular. The article is rambling and in places poorly sourced. I have hesitated to refer to that article even though some of its accusations have been backed up off the record to me by another blogger I know. But one particular accusation, made in May, is of note because it presages the current scandal. From Room 8:

    These transactions are hidden behind a wall of corporate secrecy.

    Yes, corporate: To run its canvassing operations, the WFP has created an in-house, for-profit corporation called Data & Field Services. The party publicly discloses only the five-figure lump sums it occasionally "pays" the company. (Some individual candidates also disclose payments to DFS.)

    This practice apparently violates state campaign-finance regulations. Board of Elections officials insist that party committees are required to itemize exactly who gets the money they dispense, even if it's paid through an "outside" vendor. While the public can sometimes see where the WFP's money comes from, it knows very little about where it goes. In the Working Families Party, ACORN has created a conglomerate that is one part campaign machine, one part commercial enterprise and one part lobbying-clearinghouse for special-interest money and muscle -- a conglomerate that is shored up by its privileges as a state-registered political party and shielded from scrutiny by a corporate subsidiary.

    Of course this is precisely the scandal that is now hitting the papers, brought up months before by an anonymous Room 8 blogger. Perhaps this lends credibility to some of the other accusations made in that article...

    But one thing I want to emphasize is that Brad Lander is not the only candidate involved, even though the Room 8 blogger and (not surprisingly) Skaller both focus on Lander's involvement. I think Bill de Blasio deserves even more scrutiny than Lander. And even some people I have considered good candidates seem involved. I think this shows how widespread scandal is in our local government, whether it is the slush fund scandals that involve as much as 3/4 of the current City Council (including, I should add, Bill de Blasio as well), or the WFP scandal described here, these scandals cross party lines and really call for massive reform in NYC. I believe most of the candidates I endorse (perhaps with some exceptions who I may have to reconsider) are the ones MOST dedicated to reform of this corrupt system. And I think in particular this shows how the likes of Bill de Blasio (involved in both slush fund and WFP scandals) should NOT be Public Advocate. The two frontrunners in the Public Advocate race are Norman Siegel and Mark Green. I think without a doubt Norman Siegel is the most honest candidate in NYC and his integrity is unquestioned. I really think we need a man like Norman Siegel as our advocate these days. But we certainly do NOT need someone like Bill de Blasio.


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