Hopefully Mayor Bill de Blasio had a restful Memorial Day Weekend, because this is going to be a long week.
Prompted by a DNAinfo investigation into possible straw donations, Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 campaign has announced that it will return $32,200 in contributions to seven donors, all connected to a beauty product wholesaler in Queens. Meanwhile, the New York Daily News has obtained a spreadsheet of campaign donors, lobbyists, and celebrity friends who were considered for mayoral appointments to boards and committees across city government.
“The campaign holds itself to the highest legal and ethical standards and in light of the questions raised about these contributions has elected to return them,” spokesman Dan Levitan told DNAinfo on Friday. Levitan said that the campaign had informed the city’s Campaign Finance Board that the money would be returned “as soon as feasible.”
Campaign finance law in New York City bars individual donors from contributing more than $4,950 to a candidate running for a citywide office in any given election cycle. Straw donations—when a supporter gives someone else money to donate to a campaign—are also illegal.
The campaign will return contributions from Sm-Ali “Alex” Amanollahi, the owner of Glendale’s Primary One, three of his employees, and three business associates. Six of those donors had also contributed $27,000 to de Blasio’s post-election transition committee, but that money cannot be returned, because the committee is closed.
Amanollahi, who made the maximum-allowed contributions to both the campaign and the transition team, dates a top de Blasio fundraiser, Rud Morales. In October 2013, Morales raked in more than $213,000 at an event for de Blasio—then still a candidate—in Inwood.
Morales, who has also hosted fundraisers for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Senator Adriano Espaillat, was appointed to de Blasio’s inaugural committee, as well as the board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit run by Charlene McCray, the mayor’s wife.
According to the Daily News, this system of paying back friends of the campaign with prestigious appointments was common practice for the de Blasio administration as it moved into City Hall in early 2014, including lobbyists representing clients with business before the city.
At least 14 of the mayor’s top “bundlers” who used a legal loophole to collect big bucks far in excess of donation restrictions made the list. So did four early donors to de Blasio’s now-defunct lobbying group, the Campaign for One New York.
“Confidential notes” on the list reveal the candidate’s business ties, but do not highlight actual qualifications for specific appointments. They do, however, reference support for the mayor, sometimes in financial terms.
Candidates are described as “with us early on,” “did a lot,” “real deal” and “showed up early.” One states “decent amount,” an apparent reference to the candidate’s fund-raising for the mayor.
Such appointments are not unusual, although as a candidate de Blasio criticized “the rich and powerful having their voices heard above the rest of us because of weak laws and loopholes that allow money to permeate our elections.”
Altogether, there are 97 names on the list—including Steve Buscemi—and at least 43 accepted at least one appointment: Twenty-eight people were invited to serve on the board of the Mayor’s Fund; others accepted appointments to the Economic Development Corporation, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and the Queens Library.
According to longtime lobbyist Sid Davidoff—who de Blasio appointed to the Wildlife Conservation Commission—this is the way it’s always worked. Mayor Ed Koch put Davidoff on the rent stabilization board, and under Mayor David Dinkins—in whose administration, incidentally, de Blasio worked—Davidoff was the most successful lobbyist in the city. He was also Dinkins tennis partner.
A review of campaign finance records shows that Davidoff did not contribute to the de Blasio campaign; however, a note is appended to his name on the spreadsheet: “look up client list.” The New York Post reported that Davidoff’s firm’s City Hall work jumped from $2.1 million during the last two years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to $4.2 million in the first year-and-three-quarters of the de Blasio administration. (Also, Davidoff and his wife, Daily News columnist Linda Stasi, were married at City Hall in April 2014. De Blasio conducted the ceremony.)