State Ethics Panel Has Reportedly Subpoenaed City Hall in Big Investigation Into Mayor’s Nonprofit

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Bill de BlasioPhoto: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York shut down in March, but the investigations into the political nonprofit aren’t going away so easily. The New York Times reports that a state ethics panel has subpoenaed City Hall for all communications and documents connected to the organization among the mayor, aides, donors, and nonprofit staff and private consultant firms.

New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics served the big and broad subpoena. The panel is investigating whether de Blasio’s nonprofit possibly violated lobbying rules in 2015. The mayor founded Campaign for One New York to advance his progressive policy agenda — goals included things like universal pre-K — with the city. The group registered its lobbying activities in 2014, but failed to do so in 2015. So now the ethics panel is poking around to see if the group went ahead and lobbied anyway in 2015 — which would have been illegal.

According to the Times report, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics may also be interested in finding out if people who donated to Campaign for One New York may have had business before the city, using the nonprofit as a conduit to give to the mayor without disclosing the contribution.

Lawyers for the Campaign for One New York refused to comply with two earlier subpoenas from the state ethics panel. That sent the battle to the courts, where the nonprofit’s attorneys fought to quash the subpoenas, arguing that the state inquiry was “politically motivated” — code for meddling by reputed de Blasio frenemy governor Andrew Cuomo. A judge rejected those arguments, forcing the nonprofit to comply. A few days later, the panel issued this latest, more comprehensive subpoena that’s basically asking for any correspondence — emails, schedules, telephone logs — about Campaign for One New York that may have passed through City Hall.

An attorney for Campaign for One New York, Laurence Laufer said the latest move by the ethics panel represented “a year-and-a-half-long political fishing expedition is continuing, nor are we shocked that they have invented yet another frivolous legal theory to justify its existence.”

This Joint Commission on Public Ethics doesn’t have anything to do with the handful of state and federal probes into the mayor’s fundraising activities, though the beleaguered Campaign for One New York also factors into some of those inquiries, too. Over the summer, the city’s Campaign Finance Board cleared the nonprofit of any violations of the city’s campaign-finance laws, but said it was still keeping an eye on the organization’s 2015 expenditures to make sure they didn’t factor into Mayor de Blasio’s 2017 reelection campaign.