John Liu’s Campaign Financing Doesn’t Look So Above-Board

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John Liu, in happier times. Photo: Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images

Comptroller John Liu is responsible for overseeing the city of New York's accounting. It seems perhaps he's been cooking the books a bit, though — not the city's, but his own. Liu raised $1 million in campaign donations during the first half of 2011, with an especially large base of support among the city's Chinese and Asian immigrant communities, and labor unions. (He is New York's first Asian-American citywide elected official.) On the strength of that readily stocked war chest, he's considered a mayoral threat for 2013. But not so fast, says the Times' investigative unit.



Some two dozen irregularities were uncovered, including instances in which people listed as having given to Mr. Liu say they never gave, say a boss or other Liu supporter gave for them, or could not be found altogether.

Two people who described attending banquets in which Mr. Liu appeared and posed for photos said that company executives who support him provided donations in the names of those in attendance.

In addition, Mr. Liu is not complying with some basic campaign finance laws: To protect against so-called straw donors, the city requires that donor cards submitted with campaign contributions be filled out only by the person making the donation. In numerous instances in Mr. Liu’s campaign, one person appears to have filled out cards for multiple donors.

His campaign is also engaging in bundling, in which well-connected individuals collect contributions for a candidate from friends, relatives and others, but Mr. Liu has not disclosed the bundlers’ names, as required.

Uh-oh.

The allegations, as spelled out further by the Times, look fairly damning. The paper asked Liu to take a look at several donor cards that appeared to be filled out by the same person, and he agreed something looked fishy. “To the extent that there are problems — and I’m not suggesting there are — we cannot accept those contributions, nor do we need them,” he said. The last bit of that statement seems up for debate, but it was echoed by a campaign spokesman in an e-mail to Capital New York: The Liu camp has clearly gone into damage control mode.

Liu also took issue with whether the paper had actually been able to effectively communicate with many of the supposed donors they'd approached, non-native English speakers, who, says the Times, they interviewed in Mandarin. "If someone was asking me the question, I’d say, ‘No, no, no, no — I don’t know who you are,’” Mr. Liu said. Which is a little funny, because not questioning people's identities (whether deliberately or not) is exactly what got him into this mess.

Doubts Raised on Donations to Comptroller [NYT]