NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — CBS2 has learned that donations collected by Mayor Bill de Blasio as he ran for mayor have been deemed questionable and are also under the microscope.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, most of the attention directed at de Blasio’s fundraising team has stemmed from a scathing state Board of Elections report about how the mayor raised money for the 2014 state Senate elections.
But sources told Kramer that well before that, probers were looking at how team de Blasio raised cash for the 2013 mayoral campaign.
De Blasio ran an aggressive campaign for mayor in 2013, but where and how did he get the money to do it? Sources told CBS2 that investigators have been looking at that for quite some time – probing what they called “questionable donations.”
The questions surround possible pay-to-play donations and whether de Blasio used so-called “straw donors” – involving using another person’s money to make a contribution in one’s own name.
But that is not all. Sources also said the city Parks and Recreation Department is also being probed. The question there is whether a contract for mint-scented garbage bags that are hard for rats to break was awarded because the company’s owner made a $100,000 contribution to de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York.
Sources said probers are looking into allegations that the mayor asked the Parks Department to meet with the donor.
De Blasio said on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC radio that his administration does not tolerate pay-to-play.
“Anyone who donates to me, or any cause associated with me, can have no expectation of any special favor in return,” de Blasio said. “We don’t allow that. We don’t accept it.”
The mayor also said he is not happy about the multiple probes.
“I’m really concerned about a double standard here, where we do everything to the letter of the law, disclose everything, are open about it, do not let it affect our decisions,” de Blasio said. “Meanwhile, a lot of people are doing a lot worse and not getting much examination.
De Blasio also said Friday that he has retained a criminal defense lawyer to help him cooperate with state and federal probes into his fundraising.
City Hall told CBS2 the attorney, Barry Berke, will represent the mayor and the 2013 campaign and that his fees are estimated at $850.
According to the mayor’s office, city funds will not be used to pay his legal expenses.
“Barry Berke is someone I’ve known for a long time. I want to continue to cooperate with any of these investigations every way we can,” de Blasio said on “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “I said to him I want you to represent me and to make clear to any and all entities that we will cooperate fully, we are happy to expedite getting information to them. We want to see these issues examined, and we want answers, and we want them to be done as quickly as possible.”
Several teams of high-powered and expensive attorneys have been hired to help defend the city, and taxpayers will foot the bill for two of them that have already been hired “to represent the city and assist in document collection and review.”
Senior partners at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn bill the city $370 an hour. The firm has collected nearly $3 million for representing the city in various cases over the past five years.
The other law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, bills at $250 for partners and has collected more than $500,000 since 2010.
Also Friday, state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Shrub Oak), who blew the whistle about the way de Blasio allegedly raised money to influence the 2014 state Senate races, introduced legislation to increase penalties for laundering campaign cash and using straw donors. He called it “closing the de Blasio loophole.”
The main investigation into team de Blasio, jointly run by the U.S. attorney’s office for New York’s Southern District and by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., is examining de Blasio’s efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate in 2014 and whether donors to his campaign or the Campaign for One New York nonprofit received city benefits in exchange for donations.
Probers are seeking to investigate charges that team de Blasio sought to evade individual campaign limits of $10,300 by having donors make big donations to local county committees, which in turn earmarked and funneled the money to specific candidates. Such methods are against the law.
De Blasio has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he and his team did not violate any campaign finance laws.
All this comes as the mayor’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, announced Thursday that she would be stepping down next month, less than a year on the job.
The mayor’s office said it will name a new press secretary in the near future. It emphasized that Hinton’s departure is not in any way connected to ongoing probe.
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