Friday, December 16, 2016

Two Grand Juries Against NYC Mayor and Administration

Responding publicly for the first time to a report that two Grand Juries are hearing testimony in investigations involving his Campaign and Political Nonprofit’s fundraising, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio repeated the same defense he’s invoked frequently over the nearly nine months since those investigations were first reported: He followed the law and did what his lawyers told him to do.

The New York Times reported that two separate Grand Juries, one Federal and one State, are hearing testimony from witnesses in investigations into whether de Blasio’s top aides took favorable action on behalf of donors to either his 2013 Campaign or a separate Nonprofit he created to advance his policy agenda, and whether de Blasio or his Aides sought to circumvent State Donation Limits in their fundraising efforts to help Democrats retake the State Senate in 2014.

“One, we did things the right way and by the law,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer Friday morning, during his weekly WNYC radio interview appearance. “Two, we sought legal guidance throughout, either from campaign lawyers or from the Conflicts of Interest Board in the Campaign for One New York,” de Blasio said, referring to the Nonprofit. “You can ask it 1,000 times, I'm gonna answer the same way because that’s exactly what happened. So, we will cooperate, we’ll provide all the information in the world, and we’re very very comfortable with it. I’m very comfortable with it, because I know we did things the right way,” he said.

De Blasio, who said very matter-of-factly earlier this week at a press conference that he had not been called to testify before any Grand Juries, said he and his team had “cooperated from moment one,” with the investigations into his Administration. “The only thing we care about is getting to resolution," he said. "I think the public would like to get to resolution as quickly as appropriate, but that’s up to the folks doing the investigations.”

As the Times reported Thursday, a Grand Jury hearing testimony is not indicative that Prosecutors will seek charges in an investigation, but it is “the strongest indication since the investigations came to light in April that prosecutors may be moving closer to one or more indictments, possibly against some of Mr. de Blasio’s closest aides.”

Questions about de Blasio’s fundraising for the now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, a 501(c)4 he created shortly before taking office, have been swirling for more than a year. The Nonprofit, which was not legally required to disclose its donors or its spending, voluntarily disclosed who it raised money from in an effort at transparency. But a majority of the donors, more than two thirds had some form of business or other matter pending with the City at the time they gave, raising questions about whether the donors had given expecting favors from the Mayor’s office in return.

De Blasio has repeatedly said that’s not the case. He said so again Friday. “We disclosed everything we were doing, which is why people were asking specific questions. We never provided any undue favors or anything for anybody who was a donor. We made decisions on the merits,” he told Lehrer. “People who disclose everything tend to be people who are very comfortable with all the facts coming out, and I am,” de Blasio said.

And he has defended the Nonprofit, and his separate effort at fundraising for the Senate Democrats in 2014, as, simply, the right thing to do. The Nonprofit, he argues, was built to create support for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing proposals. Although the group has said it did no lobbying related to affordable housing, and is actually waging a separate battle with the State’s Ethics Board over that question.

And, the Mayor's argued, helping Democrats win a majority in the State Senate would have led to things his base wanted, like more rent regulations and campaign finance reforms. “What matters here is we did everything by the law, for good causes,” de Blasio said Friday. “You know there’s plenty of scandals in New York state about people trying to put money in their own pockets. Or doing things, immoral. The work we did was by the law, above board, appropriate, to win pre-k, affordable housing, a Democratic State Senate, and those were the right things to work for. Everything disclosed. No, no influence given to anyone in exchange,” he said.

All the same, de Blasio plans to sign a bill next week that was passed by the City Council Thursday which would effectively bar City Lawmakers from creating groups like the Campaign for One New York in the future.

On Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito described the Nonprofit this way: “We won't know for certain what happened with the Campaign for One New York until the investigations into its practices have concluded. But we do know that it exposed loopholes in our election and ethics laws that need to be remedied and we’re doing that today with this bill.”

De Blasio has refused to concede that signing such a bill is a concession that the Group’s practices were problematic in any way, saying instead that the Group had become a “distraction” to his work as Mayor.

On Friday he said the Bill will open the door to outside groups willing to take advantage of Federal Campaign Finance loopholes to spend on attacks against the Mayor. “I support the bill, but Brian, I’m not going to fail to note the contradiction,” the Mayor sighed. “Folks who are supposed to be the watchdog here are not looking at the whole picture. We’ll do this bill because it’s necessary, but what it also means is that anyone who wants to attack a mayor or the City Council or anything with endless amounts of money, there’s now no counterbalance in the equation,” he said. “And I think at some point people are going to realize that’s a problem.” “Since Citizens United what we’re really living in is a world where a lot of people want unilateral disarmament,” the mayor said.

“We’re living in a world where folks want the wealthy and a lot of folks who have done huge amounts of advertising against me, such as the hedge fund folks, to have all the freedom in the world, not to disclose and spend anything they want, when the rest of us try to fight back and do it above board and with disclosure and no inappropriate activity, it becomes such a major issue,” de Blasio said.

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