But the attacks we've seen the past few days on Bill de Blasio stemming from a Board of Elections "report" that claims felonious activities around de Blasio's campaign fundraising and financing have pulled me back, at least temporarily, because I do not think these attacks should go by without comment.
When the story first leaked that a Board of Elections report alleging felonious activity around Bill de Blasio's fundraising had been sent along to Manhattan D.A Cyrus Vance for further investigation, it came on the heels of the scandal around two de Blasio fundraisers and potential quid pro quo activities with the NYPD. For days, de Blasio had been getting beaten up publicly around that scandal, as well as one around a Lower East Side nursing home that now is to become luxury condos, so when the leak about the BOE report came, it seemed credible that investigations into de Blasio's fundraising were spiraling into something very big and very potentially damaging to the mayor and his team.
I wrote as much to James Eterno at ICEUFT blog, who posted that comment, but noted this as well:
This was a Cuomo appointee behind the January 4th memo that says felonies were committed by the De Blasio team in their fundraising, so of course it's a political attack from Cuomo.
By Monday, after a lawyer representing de Blasio's campaign apparatus fired back at the BOE claiming a political attack over what he claimed was not illegal activity, I started to see a conspiracy emanating from the governor:
The takeaway: You have a Cuomo appointee writing up a memo claiming felonies committed in de Blasio fundraising, then somebody leaking that memo to the press (as well the news of the Bharara and Vance investigations based upon the memo) so that the tabloids convict the mayor of criminality long before anybody knows if the claims in the memo are fair, accurate or legally sound.
Nice work from Cuomo.
Message: "Don't fuck with me, Billy Boy. I'll destroy you."
Later, when I saw Fred Dicker's column that with the mayor in legal jeopardy over his fundraising, Cuomo was again reaching out to potential de Blasio challengers for a primary next year, I wrote the following to James which he again posted at ICEUFT blog:
If you read the NY Times piece, it's pretty clear that some of the commissioners on the BOE believe the board has been used as an attack vehicle in the past for Cuomo. There's one current commissioner on record saying just that.
That makes me wonder, did Cuomo gin this up specifically to destroy BdB, have his hack at the BOE (who has a habit of including Cuomo aides in her email chain despite being "independent" of the Cuomo admin) write it up as a criminal referral, then leak the report exactly as the NYPD scandal was happening in order to do maximum damage to de Blasio.
Knowing what we know with previous interference with the BOE as well as every commission he's ever created (Moreland, LIPA, education, etc.), I would have to say that this is probably another Cuomo machination and so far, it's been pretty effective.
This was a masterful political attack if indeed it was engineered by Cuomo.
Regardless of how the legal inquiries into de Blasio and his team turn out, the political damage is a done deal - the NY Post has already convicted de Blasio of corruption and pictured him in an orange jump suit and handcuffs and the Daily News has jumped on board the "De Blasio's A Crook!" express, hammering the mayor daily with corruption stories.
De Blasio has got an election coming up in a year and a half - this is the very moment when he needs to be ratcheting up his fundraising, amassing a sizeable war chest (a la Andrew Cuomo and his re-election campaign) and scaring off any potential challengers with that.
But with de Blasio under scrutiny for fundraising, it's certainly going to be difficult for him to raise funds, and the political fallout has already been considerable - his poll numbers dropped on the NYPD scandal alone.
What will they look like after daily photos of de Blasio in an orange jump suit on the cover of the NY Post?
I'm no political scientist or polling expert, but the phrase "in the toilet" comes to mind when I think about what de Blasio's approval is going to look like in the next slate of polls to come out post-BOE report leak.
As of yesterday, the feeling I got was, de Blasio was finished, if not legally at least politically, and Cuomo was ascendant, having used his hack at the Board of Elections and a happily compliant media to finish off his former "friend."
All must be well on the second floor, in Cuomo's darkened room, as he contemplated the work he had done to settle his beef with de Blasio.
And then this story came this morning:
A former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo was included on a July 2014 memo that outlined a coordinated fundraising effort to help Democratic candidates for the state Senate, and on subsequent email updates about that effort, according to sources who have seen those documents.
The coordinated campaign — spearheaded by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies — is now the subject of a criminal inquiry, following a referral by Risa Sugarman, the chief enforcement counsel at the New York State Board of Elections, who was appointed by Cuomo.
The July 2014 memo, written by campaign lawyer Laurence Laufer, who was retained to represent some of the parties involved in the effort, detailed how the coordinated campaign would be structured and run, and how it intended to comply with existing state election law.
The recipients of the memo included Joe Percoco, a longtime Cuomo loyalist who served as a top aide to the governor until last year, and the state Democratic Party Committee, which is effectively controlled by the governor.
The memo was also sent to top de Blasio aides, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, representatives from key labor unions and consulting firms that were working on the State Senate races, many of whom are now the subject of an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. That investigation followed a criminal referral from Sugarman in January, which alleged that the group had illegally funneled donations to individual Senate candidates through county Democratic committees, which are not bound by the same strict donation limits.
Percoco and the state party were not included in that referral.
Sources familiar with the coordinated fundraising effort said Percoco, who took leave from his administration position to work on the Cuomo re-election campaign in 2014, served as a liaison between the Cuomo campaign and the coordinated effort, and was involved with, and aware of, the efforts to set up the arrangement.
Percoco routinely communicated with members of the coordinated effort and the state Democratic party in the months leading up to the November elections about how to spend the money the coalition raised.
So wait, Cuomo's right hand man, Joe Percoco, was a party to the alleged felonious campaign financing activity but wasn't included in the criminal referral that Cuomo's appointee at the Board of Election, Risa Sugarman, sent along to the Manhattan D.A.?
That is a curious thing, especially since we know that Percoco was closer than close to Andrew Cuomo - described by Ken Lovett at the Daily News as "Gov. Cuomo’s closest and perhaps most loyal aide."
You can be sure if Percoco knew of and was party to the campaign financing scheme Team de Blasio was engaging in with the state Senate races, then Cuomo was aware of it too. And then there's the state Democratic Party - controlled by Cuomo - also in on the plan.
Why wasn't that campaign financing a problem at time but suddenly is now? And why is it only a problem for those connected to de Blasio but not Percoco, Cuomo's "closest and perhaps most loyal" former aide, or the state Democratic Party?
This story gets more curious by the day, especially since it's a Cuomo appointee at the supposedly "independent" Board of Elections (an appointee who has kept the governor's office "in the loop" via email in the past, btw) writing that report up and sending it along for a criminal referral.
We also have this problem: Team de Blasio's campaign finance plan doesn't appear to be illegal and it appears to be a rather well-worn plan followed by other pols in the state (including former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg), but de Blasio is the only one being investigated for this kind of activity.
That is curious a thing - I wonder if there being a Cuomo appointee behind the criminal referral to the Manhattan D.A. had anything to do with the selectivity of the investigation?
Jim Dwyer wondered something similar in the NY Times today:
Now, bewilderingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his crew are said to be in an exotic pile of legal trouble faced by virtually no other politicians who have done just about the same thing.In 2014, the mayor and allies raised millions of dollars in hopes of giving control of the State Senate to the Democrats. By law, there was a limit of $10,300 that an individual could give that year to a campaign. But the same person could give about $100,000 to larger political organizations, like state and county party committees.Those committees can spend away on behalf of the candidates, but everyone has to pretend not to coordinate efforts to get around the limits.A scorching report by Risa S. Sugarman, chief enforcement officer for the State Board of Elections, said the de Blasio team had committed “willful and flagrant” violations of the laws by using those committees. She sent it on to the Manhattan district attorney.Her document is remarkably assiduous in places, and filled with flagrant, or at least gaping, holes in others.For instance, Ms. Sugarman managed not to notice that the State Democratic Committee received $766,000 in 12 days in October 2014, much of it from organizations and people linked to Mr. de Blasio, and promptly spent it on a number of the same vendors and on behalf of the same candidates, according to reports filed with the elections board. Not a word appears in her report about the money that passed through that committee. As it happens, that committee is effectively controlled by the governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, who nominated her for her job.Why was the state committee left out of such a meticulous report?“I don’t comment on confidential memos,” Ms. Sugarman said.If we are going to criminalize politics, why spare one committee from the opprobrium heaped on others?“All my investigations and anything that goes on within my division is confidential,” Ms. Sugarman said.
Dwyer goes on to point out how Michael Bloomberg used a similar scheme to elect Republicans to the state Senate that Sugarman claims is evidence of de Blasio breaking the law to elect Dems to the state Senate:
Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor as mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, sent $75,000 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee during the last days before a special election on Long Island in 2007. The check was delivered on Jan. 26, for an election held 11 days later. The money supported a single Republican candidate, in one campaign, with a donation many times the limit Mr. Bloomberg would have been permitted if he had given the money directly to the campaign.Mr. Bloomberg spent heavily in similar fashion during his time as mayor to prop up the Republican Senate majority, using his own money. Mr. de Blasio has spent heavily in hopes of attaining a Democratic majority, though he has taken the precaution of using other people’s money.
If it seems strange that Mr. de Blasio is now on the griddle when so many others could just as easily have provided fixings for the same meal, it’s important to remember that the corrupting force of campaign money was part of the work of the Moreland Commission in 2013 and 2014.
Would that be the same Moreland Commission that Cuomo shut down in return for a budget deal even though it appeared to have found incriminating evidence on Shelly Silver (who later got convicted, in part, on evidence unearthed by the Moreland Commission?)
It would indeed be just that commission.
I would add that Bloomberg seemingly came right up to the line of campaign finance law with his relationship with the Independence Party as well, a story the Daily News covered back in 2012.
Bloomberg needed the Independence Party ballot line to ensure victory in 2001 and to help out in his 2005 and 2009 races for mayor.
In 2001, Bloomberg got on the Independence Party ballot line and received 59,000 votes - "almost twice the slim margin of victory that put him into City Hall."
In 2005, the Independence Party ballot line gave him 75,000 votes - less than he won by, but a help nonetheless.
Same thing happened in 2009, when Bloomberg got 150,000 votes.
What did the Independence Party get in return for the ballot line?
Money - and lots of it:
$400,000 to the personal accounts of Independence Party figures.
$650,000 in charitable contributions to charities run and/or affiliated with Independence Party figures.
$12.75 million in tax breaks to a charity run by an Independence Party figure.
$1.35 million laundered through the fundraising account of the Independence Party chairman, which the Independence Party used to re-elect three Republican state senators. The Independence Party chairman paid himself $60,000 for enabling that money laundering scheme by the mayor.
$1.2 million to Independence Party operatives to intimidate voters at the polls - $1.1 million of which was "stolen" by John Haggerty.
John Haggerty was a Republican political consultant hired by Bloomberg for the 2009 race.
Haggerty was eventually convicted of stealing $1.1 million of Bloomberg's money, but his trial laid bare the scheming and games Bloomberg played with that dough, including having money seemingly earmarked for one purpose being used for another instead.
It was all quite unseemly.
As Bill Hammond wrote in the Daily News during the Haggerty trial:
Regardless of the outcome of Haggerty's trial, Bloomberg - who took the stand yesterday - doesn't come off smelling like a rose, either. According to the prosecution's version of events - which Bloomberg confirmed under oath - the mayor and his campaign knowingly and intentionally exploited loopholes in the state's campaign finance laws to keep the public in the dark about some of their seamier tactics.
If what they did wasn't against the law, it sure as heck ought to be.
But Haggerty was the one convicted for a crime while Bloomberg was the "victim" - even though he was using Haggerty to exploit campaign finance law.
And guess who the Manhattan D.A. behind the indictment and eventual conviction of Haggerty was.
That's right - Cyrus Vance, the guy looking into de Basio now:
The indictment culminates a politically sensitive investigation by Mr. Vance. Before the indictment, there was buzz in the political world about the unusual way that the mayor’s campaign directed the payment, using personal checks from Mr. Bloomberg rather than the campaign’s official account.
Some lawyers and political analysts say the case could prove embarrassing to the mayor, in shining an unwelcome spotlight on one of his least favorite topics: how he spends his own money.“The mayor filed a statement with the Board of Elections that he would only make campaign expenditures through his campaign committee,” said one lawyer familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation. “But what might have happened here is instead of doing that, he gave personal funds to political parties to make political expenditures for him, and that could be stretching the rules.”Mr. Vance emphasized that his office had found “no criminal misconduct” on the part of the mayor or his campaign.
Bloomberg used some funky accounting and check writing to skirt the rules, but Vance found "no criminal misconduct."
How open-minded of the Manhattan DA.
You have to wonder, will Bill de Blasio will get the same open-mindedness from Mr. Vance?
In any case, the point around the BOE report leak on de Blasio is this:
De Blasio was playing the same dirty game every other politician in this state plays around campaign finance - including his predecessor Michael Bloomberg and his "friend" in Albany, Andrew Cuomo (who took $250K from politically connected men in the town of Kiryas Joel the same weekend he vetoed a bill those politically connected Kiryas Joel men wanted vetoed.)
Only de Blasio and the people around him are being called to account for this.
That's not defend the process here - just to point out the hypocrisy of only de Blasio going down for it.
To make matters worse, the criminal referral to Vance by the Cuomo appointee Sugarman deliberately leaves out Cuomo's "closest and most loyal aide," even though he was a party to the scheme, and conveniently leaves out how Team de Blasio used the same scheme to send money to the Cuomo-controlled state Democratic Party.
This is all very complex and it will likely go over the heads of most New Yorkers busy trying to live their lives, something which Cuomo knows and counts on.
Cuomo also counts on the tabloids to do his bidding for him, running pictures of de Blasio in handcuffs and detailing every act from Team de Blasio as if it were a criminal act (see this NY Post piece hammering de Blasio for sending $50K to state Senate candidate Todd Kaminsky days before a special election - a similar act to Bloomberg sending $75K to his candidate in a special election in 2007 that elicited no concern from the Posties.)
The media has dutifully complied with multiple stories daily about de Blasio's alleged criminality.
The political damage to de Blasio is enormous and perhaps mortal.
That was exactly what Cuomo wanted out of all of this.
But sometimes we get more than we want out of things, and while Cuomo has gotten the headlines convicting de Blasio of corruption before any charges are even filed, he may also get something he didn't count on - scrutiny for himself.
Preet Bharara has warned him publicly before about tampering with the Moreland Commission investigations.
You have to wonder what he makes of all this - the BOE report written up by a Cuomo appointee that ignores Cuomo connections to the alleged felonies, the leak of that report to do maximum damage to its target, Bill de Blasio?
If Cuomo's appointee, Risa Sugarman, is right that felonies were committed by Team De Blasio in their financing schemes, why weren't all the people and entities involved referred to the Manhattan D.A. for investigation? How is it that Cuomo's ties were conveniently ignored and his loyal aide, Joe Percoco, and the Cuomo-controlled state Democratic Party sheltered from scrutiny?
If this sounds a bit like deja vu from the Moreland days, when the Cuomo administration was using the Moreland Commission to investigate others but steering it away from scrutinizing itself (and its donors), you'd be right about that.
It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to use an entity in the regulatory apparatus - in this case the Board of Elections - as a vehicle for a political attack after you've been warned about similar such actions in the past.
It also is a crime.
Cuomo's had his way for the first days after the leak of the report and the criminal referral to the Manhattan DA.
But now as it becomes pretty clear that his fingerprints are all over the BOE "report" and leak and, kinda just like with Moreland, he seems to have engineered it such that he and his people would avoid scrutiny even as he used the legal and regulatory apparatus of the state to attack his political enemies, you have to ask yourself, what will Preet do about that?
Last week, Bharara warned that he's got his sights set on executive branches of government in this state as well as the legislature.
That was taken as a direct warning to de Blasio that Preet's got him in his sights.
But that warning may have also been sent to another executive branch member, this one with a penchant for using commissions and regulatory bodies as political attack weapons while excluding himself and his allies from their scrutiny.
Cynics around the Internet think Bharara has been told Cuomo is off limits by the Obama administration, that they don't want to see a third consecutive Democratic governor go down in ethical flames in New York.
That may be so - it certainly appeared that way when Bharara gave Cuomo a clean bill of health around the Moreland tampering right before Cuomo was set to issue his State of the State/budget address in January.
So maybe Cuomo knows he's got no worries here, that his protectors in Washington will ensure he can act with impunity - take bribes from Kiryas Joel connections and give them a veto in return, for example, or conspire to use the BOE to destroy his enemy de Blasio - and nothing will befall him.
He may be right about that.
Given how Shelly Silver, Dean Skelos and now Bill de Blasio all got mired in corruption investigations (with Silver and Skelos getting convicted) while Cuomo rides high and clear from the mire, well, that is something isn't it?
Game of Thrones indeed.
You win or you die.