There is nothing illegal about the fund-raising tactic the New York Times reports has become a favorite of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign: You can donate the maximum to a candidate and then donate more to his or her past campaigns to defray debts. It’s a little unusual to do it so much, but the interesting thing is who’s taking advantage of the opportunity to shell out more than the $4,950 maximum for the candidate the Times previously described as “a passionate voice on the homeless and housing issues,” and “a strong supporter of government transparency and changes in campaign finance rules.”
One big donor is Alan Lapes, a landlord who has invested heavily in buildings he rents out as private homeless shelters, one of which the Daily News once described as a “hell hotel.” More recently, Lapes sparked a controversy in Carol Gardens when he wanted to open a shelter in one of his buildings there. As Capital New York’s Andrew Rice wrote in a less-than-flattering profile of Lapes last October, advocates for the poor see him as “part of a wave of profiteers who rousted long-term, low-paying tenants from the kind of SRO buildings that dotted city during the Ed Koch era,” though Lapes sees himself as a businessman who helps the needy.
Lapes’ business relies heavily on the city, so he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to be donating as much as he can to campaigns. But the Campaign Legal Center’s Meredith McGehee described the fund-raising method as “double dipping.” She said, “clearly people are being solicited and are giving to these politicians in the hope that it will be noticed and they will get something — access and influence — in exchange for that donation. The point is that it’s awkward for De Blasio to be taking in so much money through a method so many see as shady.