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Mayor de Blasio broke New York City’s conflict of interest laws at least three times — and did so after a watchdog agency warned him not to solicit donations from groups with business before the city, newly released documents show.
The letters to de Blasio from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board reveal that he was forewarned in July 2014, just seven months into his first term, about requesting cash from donors who had matters pending with his administration.
A subsequent 2018 letter from COIB shows Hizzoner didn’t heed that advice and continued to make illegal solicitations for donations.
The letters were released Wednesday after a protracted legal battle between the mayor and the NY Times.
For years, de Blasio and his team have told reporters the mayor has complied with all legal and ethics rules when it comes to raising money. But the confidential COIB letters, which the Times fought to make public for years, reveal a different reality than what de Blasio and his team have so consistently tried to portray.
In the first letter, which is dated July 30, 2014 and addressed to de Blasio at Gracie Mansion, COIB Chairman Richard Briffault flags two solicitations de Blasio made on behalf of a non-profit created to promote universal pre-kindergarten education. At the time, pre-k for all was de Blasio’s top policy priority.
That COIB letter first points to a phone conversation de Blasio had with deep-pocketed developer Bruce Ratner on Jan. 21, 2014 — just three weeks after he was sworn in as mayor. During the call, de Blasio asked Ratner — whose Forest City Enterprises developed Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn — to give $50,000 to the UPKNYC non-profit.
A month later, on Valentine’s Day, de Blasio asked Marc Holliday, the CEO of SL Green Real Estate, for a $100,000 donation. SL Green is the developer of the 1 Vanderbilt project next to Grand Central Terminal.
In the letter, COIB notes that it had earlier advised de Blasio’s lawyer Laurence Laufer about soliciting money for his Campaign for One New York, an entity created to raise cash for pre-K and other initiatives.
“Among other things, the Board advised that you ‘may not, therefore, direct a targeted solicitation to any individual who has, or whose organization has, a matter pending or about to be pending before any such executive branch office or agency,” Briffault wrote. “For a public servant to engage in such targeted solicitations would be to act in conflict with that public servant’s official duties, in violation of [the] City Charter.”
At the time, the board let de Blasio off with a warning, opting against any enforcement action against the mayor because his legal team had reported the solicitations voluntarily to COIB.
But according to the board’s 2018 letter to de Blasio, its warning went ignored.
In that missive, which was once again directed to the mayor at Gracie Mansion, Briffault points to three CONY fundraising solicitations that de Blasio directed at entities with business before his administration.
One was a call Hizzoner made to Jeffrey Levine, head of Douglaston Development, in which he told Levine to expect a follow-up call from CONY fundraiser Ross Offinger. Offinger later arranged for a $25,000 donation from Douglaston, which had several matters before the city at the time.
The second ask transpired in much the same way. De Blasio called Toll Brothers President David Von Spreckelsen. Offinger followed up, and Toll Brothers, which also had pending business with the city, cut a check for $25,000 to CONY.
De Blasio also asked lobbyist James Capalino for cash in April 2015. Capalino gave $10,000 of his own money and raised $90,000 from clients — all of it for de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York.
“By soliciting these three donations from firms with business pending or about to be pending before executive agencies, and providing no disclaimers, you not only disregarded the Board’s written advice, but created the very appearance of coercion and improper access to you and your staff,” Briffault wrote.
De Blasio spokeswoman Danielle Filson did not respond when directly asked why de Blasio didn’t heed COIB’s warnings, but simply stated that the mayor “acted in good faith and followed the process set out for him.”
“The calls the mayor was making at this time were to support affordable housing legislation and his effort to achieve Universal Pre-K for every child in New York City, which is now a national model,” she said. “The board closed these cases and determined no enforcement action was necessary.”
Filson also noted that the process she mentioned resulted in “specific scripts” for each call made by the mayor, including appropriate disclaimers that she claimed the mayor consistently used.
Despite its 2018 finding that de Blasio violated ethics rules, COIB once again took no action, noting that CONY had been disbanded in 2016 and that the City Council passed a law governing such fundraising activities.
“Under these specific circumstances, the Board has concluded that enforcement action is not required with respect to your fundraising,” Briffault wrote. “With the issuance of this confidential letter, the Board is closing this case.”