Forget for a minute the gift and cash scandal rocking the NYPD. Even the two shady Brooklyn businessmen who allegedly handed out the goodies are not the big fish. And don’t be distracted by the arrest of a man accused of running a Ponzi scheme out of a failed restaurant that some of the cops frequented.
Block all that out and keep your eyes where they belong — on Mayor de Blasio. He’s the focus of the FBI and Preet Bharara’s federal prosecutors. Everyone and everything else is an important detail, but just a detail.
I wrote Friday that all the probers’ tips lead back to City Hall, and now the target is coming into clear view. It looks as if the mayor’s three slush funds, the ones that good-government groups blasted as a “shadow government,” have a bull’s-eye on them.
The multimillion-dollar operation is tied to every sleazy deal you’ve read about since de Blasio took office. It is the dirty doorway to all the other schemes and players.
The funds raised at least $4.36 million from developers, unions, taxi medallion owners, carriage-horse opponents and wealthy liberal activists like George Soros. In short, all those who wanted something big and valuable from de Blasio found their way to the back-room boiler operation and wrote a fat check.
The first of the groups was such a hit that the mayor created two more. All three nonprofits have an innocent-sounding name and, because they are incorporated separately from his official campaign, are not bound by the limits and disclosures required under the city’s campaign finance law. It’s a safe bet that avoiding those rules is why the groups were created.
If that pattern weren’t suspicious enough, an added element is that de Blasio has been moving huge amounts of money among the three entities, creating a virtual shell game that, temporarily at least, conceals the donors, how much they gave and how the money is being spent.
Ultimately, the issue is what, if any, favors the donors got in exchange for their cash. Were there illegal quid pro quos?
That’s what the feds want to know. As I have said repeatedly, I believe a thorough probe will find corruption by the bushel.
One hint of the feds’ focus surfaced last month when de Blasio suddenly announced that he was closing the first of the shady groups, the Campaign for One New York. It was formed soon after he won election, before he even took office, with the stated purpose of pushing his agenda.
It’s $4.36 million haul included $350,000 from the teachers union just before de Blasio gave the union a sweetheart contract. Large “gifts” from developers are reportedly of special interest to prosecutors.
That wouldn’t be surprising in light of the lucrative benefits de Blasio has lavished on the real-estate community. Remember, too, that real-estate firms were at the heart of the corruption convictions Bharara won against former Albany leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. Maybe he sees a sequel.
De Blasio’s announcement of the closing came just weeks after Common Cause filed its five-page formal complaint against him. It accused his slush funds of using “dark money” that obscures “who has influence and access to the policymaking process.”
The operation “has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest,” the letter said.
It was sent to the Campaign Finance Board and the Conflicts of Interest Board. Both are stuffed with mayoral appointees, and neither responded.
When he closed the Campaign for One New York, de Blasio claimed it had finished its work, citing the universal pre-K program he started.
That seemed a fishy answer at the time for two reasons. First, the group’s existence had never been tied to a single issue, and second, the fact that it came so soon after the Common Cause complaint suggested de Blasio was concerned about an ethical or legal issue.
My guess now is that he closed it because the federal investigation had started, and de Blasio was trying to clean up a mess.
If so, he’s going to need a bigger broom, not only because of the suspect fund-raising, but also because of the way the Campaign for One New York spent much of its money. Politico reported that the group used “at least $727,937 to seed the newer nonprofit Progressive Agenda Committee” that de Blasio created.
That group, formed last May, helped the mayor raise his national profile and reportedly funded his many trips out of town. So far, he has not disclosed any of its donors or how the money was spent.
He formed the third group, United for AffordableNYC, early this year and focused it on getting his controversial rezoning measure through community boards and the City Council.
Tenant organizations denounced the group, calling it an “unconscionable” front for developers who would benefit from the zoning changes. Like the Progressive Agenda group, United for AffordableNYC was seeded with money transferred from the Campaign for One New York, most of which came from developers and others with business before the city.
It remains a mystery how much money the new group got and who its other donors are.
Already the probes are forcing sunlight into the shadowy world de Blasio created and exposing his sham defense. Even as he condemned others for using nonprofits for political aims, he insisted his were different because he provided some disclosure and because he was using the money for noble purposes.
Hypocrisy is now the least of his problems.
By Michael Goodwin – NY POST