"James Capalino, one of the top lobbyists in New York City who enjoys a close relationship with de Blasio, gave him $10,000 on May 27. The following day, Capalino lobbied de Blasio directly on a plan to eliminate helicopter tours in Manhattan. Capalino represents the tourism industry; de Blasio has yet to take a position on the proposal." See article below.
The transactional mayor returns
By Laura Nahmias and Sally Goldenberg 5:08 a.m. | Sep. 24, 2015 Politico New York
City Hall is open for business.
After the 12-year mayoralty of billionaire Mike Bloomberg, whose wealth afforded him level of insulation from campaign donors, a more transactional style of politics has taken hold through an organization Mayor Bill de Blasio set up to promote his policy agenda.
Since its inception on Dec. 12, 2013, the operation known as Campaign for One New York has accepted $3.87 million from dozens of real estate developers, unions and others who do business with City Hall. The setup allows the mayor to raise money outside the regulations of the city Campaign Finance Board.
The contributors to his group include individuals and firms seeking approvals for their projects, and they often donate through limited liability companies that obscure their identities.
In some cases, donors gave money right before or after getting a city-granted benefit, according to a POLITICO New York review of $1.71 million in individual contributions that poured in during the first six months of 2015.
At least 46 of 74 donors listed in the latest six-month filing — 62 percent of them — either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.
On the other hand, some of the largest sums of cash came from donors who have long supported de Blasio’s policies and have no business interactions with City Hall, such as liberal billionaire George Soros, who donated $250,000 through his Fund for Policy Reform Inc.
The campaign account stands in contrast to de Blasio’s previous crusade against unlimited donations to political action committees — a priority during his early years as the city’s public advocate.
A spokesman for the campaign argued that de Blasio had opposed secret contributions in elections; Campaign for One New York, while directly helping a single candidate, is not spending money on an election and voluntarily discloses its donors to reporters.
Joseph Dussich, the CEO of JAD Corporation of America, a Queens-based maintenance company, had long tried to market mint-scented, rodent-repellent trash bags he invented.
After donating $100,000 to Campaign for One New York, the city has begun doing business with him.
Dussich gave the organization $50,000 on Dec. 10, 2014 and another $50,000 on Feb. 3, 2015, according to filings voluntarily provided by the group. That is 20 times more than the $4,950 an individual can give a mayoral candidate in a single election cycle, per Campaign Finance Board rules. Dussich has been promoting his anti-rat product since at least 2007, when he described the idea to New York Magazine.
One month after his latest donation, the city parks department spent $15,000 on his garbage bags, according to records filed with the city comptroller.
While just a fraction of his overall donation, the deal was a boon for the entrepreneur who lamented in 2013 that he “couldn’t get to first base” with the parks department, which had yet to consider buying his trash bags. At that time, he was raising money for de Blasio’s Republican challenger, Joe Lhota.
Dussich did not respond to a call for comment.
Several months later, Andrew Nussbaum, the head of nonprofit group Asphalt Green, which opposed the planned site of an Upper East Side waste transfer station access ramp, contributed $10,000.
The group had been protesting the ramp location, as well as blasting it on social media, for more than one year. Six weeks after Nussbaum's donation, de Blasio agreed to move the ramp.
Nussbaum did not respond to a call for comment.
In March, District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union, donated $20,000 to the campaign. Around that time, the union’s leadership was successfully negotiating raises for its lowest-paid members with the city Office of Labor Relations.
“DC 37’s support for the Campaign for One New York’s efforts to draw attention and find solutions to the city’s affordable housing crisis is based solely on merit," DC 37 executive director Henry Garrido said in a statement to POLITICO New York.
"Like hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of their fellow New Yorkers, our members struggle to pay the exorbitant housing costs that now endanger the working- and middle-class of our city. We will continue to do all that we can to support efforts that ease this burden and increase accessibility to affordable housing.”
Dan Levitan, a spokesman for the group, said the donors are simply backers of de Blasio's policies.
"The Campaign for One New York is supported by individuals, foundations and organizations committed to New York City's progressive agenda," Levitan said. "As part of our commitment to transparency, we voluntarily disclose all of our fundraising and spending."
Half the donations this year came from real estate companies, many of whom contributed as they were engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort to persuade de Blasio to protect an existing development tax break known as 421-a. A flurry of builders donated during a fundraiser de Blasio hosted on April 21.
In early May, the mayor announced a plan for 421-a that was met with broad approval from the real estate industry. He agreed to extend the life of the tax break in exchange for mandating more affordable housing from builders who receive it.
The deal was announced with the support of the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, to which many of these donors belong, before the state Legislature was briefed on it.
The mayor declined to require that builders pay construction workers a prevailing wage for 421-a projects, again putting him on the side of developers and against trade unions, who ultimately won support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The final framework for 421-a must now be decided by REBNY and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
Among the real estate donors were Two Trees Management, which gave $100,000 through an LLC, Brookfield Financial Property L.P., which donated $50,000, Douglaston Development, which contributed $25,000, and Alma Realty Corp., which gave $5,000. Alma won approval in 2014 to rezone a site in Astoria for a mixed-use project.
In June, architect Ariel Aufgang, who donated $2,500 to the campaign in late April 2015, said the mayor’s 421-a plan boosted his business.
Following the announcement in May, the city Department of Buildings introduced evening hours for architects to meet with plan examiners to speed up projects before the existing tax break would expire in June, and while its renewal awaited approval in Albany.
Aufgang said he’d gotten the city’s approval for more than 930 new apartments, after meeting repeatedly with city officials.
“I was able to go every Thursday night, three weeks in a row,” Aufgang told the Wall Street Journal.
Levitan argued the mayor's 421-a plan was not a gift to developers.
"During this reporting period, Mayor de Blasio negotiated major reforms to the 421-a program that will end giveaways to developers and require them to build more affordable housing for New Yorkers," he said.
Last year, Campaign for One New York received donations from several yellow taxi medallion companies with which de Blasio has frequently sided in regulatory battles.
He once again took their side this summer by trying to temporarily cap the growth of car-hail company Uber.
Before the heated fight, Uber’s supporters tried in vain to curry favor with the mayor by holding their own fundraiser for him in San Francisco in May.
Other donors are still hoping for something from the mayor.
Wendy Neu and Stephen Nislick, two individuals behind a longstanding effort to ban horse carriages in Central Park, each gave $50,000 on March 2.
Together they met with the mayor in February and June this year, according to his voluntary disclosure of meetings with lobbyists.
De Blasio has yet to make good on his campaign promise to abolish the industry, but it’s not for lack of trying. In a recent radio interview, he blamed the delay on the City Council.
Alexander Levin, a Brooklyn developer in the midst of seeking approval for a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, gave $50,000 in three separate donations between January and June. Levin has previously contributed to Campaign for One New York.
The change he’s looking for would allow him to expand a retail property he owns in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood in Brooklyn.
James Capalino, one of the top lobbyists in New York City who enjoys a close relationship with de Blasio, gave him $10,000 on May 27. The following day, Capalino lobbied de Blasio directly on a plan to eliminate helicopter tours in Manhattan. Capalino represents the tourism industry; de Blasio has yet to take a position on the proposal.
Capalino also represents several donors who gave to the Campaign for One New York, including Broadway Stages’ Gina Argento, a prolific Democratic donor, and JDS Construction Group, which is building a mega-tower in Midtown Manhattan. JDS has locked horns with construction workers for declining to use union labor on his projects.
Capalino represented Asphalt Green in 2014 and lobbies on behalf of scores of developers and cultural institutions.
An official with Capalino’s firm declined to comment.
Establishing a fund to promote his agenda and accepting unlimited monetary contributions puts de Blasio somewhat at odds with the campaign finance reform effort he pursued five years ago. As public advocate, de Blasio formed the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, intended to be a national effort to restrict unlimited corporate donations in political elections after the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United decision allowed such contributions.
In an op-ed published in The Nation that year, de Blasio railed against corporate political spending.
“ I have been campaigning against corporate influence in our elections, demanding that individual corporations pledge to not spend money in politics,” de Blasio wrote.
He boasted that the campaign “scored a major victory” by convincing Goldman Sachs to “amend its political contribution policy and not take advantage of the opening created by Citizens United to spend corporate money directly in elections.”
“ The importance of this campaign cannot be overstated. Corporations and other political organizations have already begun to take advantage of Citizens United,” he wrote.
It wasn’t the first time de Blasio supported measures to limit the influence of corporate and business interests in political campaigns.
As a city councilman in 2007, he voted to change the city’s campaign finance law to reduce the amount of money an individual or corporation with business before the city could give to a citywide candidate to $400. That reform drastically reduced the number of donations from donors who had business with the city, the Campaign Finance Board wrote in a report published in 2009.
Donations from entities doing business with the city dropped from 22 percent of total funds raised in the 2005 election cycle to less than 4 percent in 2009, according to the report.
The mayor also signed into law last year a measure requiring independent expenditure entities to list their top three donors and the name of someone in charge of the operation, such as a CEO, on campaign literature mailed to voters. The information also has to be presented on advertisements.
De Blasio is contradicting himself, a prominent New York-based government watchdog said.
“The mayor should not be collecting large donations for a shadow government entity. And yes, it is always much more uncomfortable when someone who has decried the use of dark money in politics then turns around and engages in the same conduct,” said Susan Lerner, head of Common Cause New York. “I don’t see any justification for this.”
Lerner said de Blasio should use “all of the city’s substantial communication modalities to explain and defend the government’s programs” rather than “going to individuals and entities who have large amounts of business before the city to explain and defend his programs.”
“It undercuts the city’s campaign finance system in a bold and unacceptable way that sets a very bad precedent,” she added.
De Blasio has distinguished the Campaign For One New York from an election account.
The two are “very different realities,” he told reporters last year.
“The Campaign Finance Board by definition relates to candidate campaigns — to individual candidacies. And as you know, we have the most advanced campaign finance laws in the country — the most rigid,” he added. “And I have been very happy to participate under those for the last 12 years, 13 years, and I think they’re exactly the right laws. But when you’re talking about an issue-oriented organization, it’s a different approach.”
He also said the disclosures for the campaign “goes beyond the legal requirements.”
“You can ask any question you want, but I do know to achieve the agenda we’re talking about, it’s important to get support from all quarters,” he added. “And that support is important in terms of actually getting things done for people that we came here to do.”
Stop the Chop NYNJ is a local grassroots coalition of NY and NJ residents seeking to educate the public about the adverse effects of helicopters sightseeing tours on the environment and on the health and welfare of the two million people living underneath their Hudson River flight path.