The Advance Group Fined For Campaign Finance Violations

On Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) determined that The Advance Group, Inc. (TAG) committed violations in the 2013 elections and assessed penalties totaling $15,000. The CFB determined that The Advance Group, while acting as agent for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, Inc. (NYCLASS), an independent spender, and two of its city council clients, Mark Levine and Laurie Cumbo, engaged in illegal coordinated spending reported to be independent.

Advantage Group president Scott Levenson was the political director of NYCLASS and its campaign was run out of his Manhattan office, while at the same time the group spent money to promote the candidacies of two of Levenson’s clients — Levine and Cumbo.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman imposed a separate $10,800 penalty against The Advance Group. Combined, TAG is being penalized $25,800.

Attorney General Schneiderman said, “New York voters deserve elections that are fair and free of coordination that distorts the democratic process. The law preventing coordination between candidates and advocacy campaigns is clear.  Today’s agreement sends a clear message that campaign coordination is unacceptable in New York city and state politics.”

Calling the fines a joke, political blogger Gary Tilzer said, “If the CFB thinks they are stopping [illegal] PAC campaign coordination by millionaire lobbyists/consultants, they’re nuts.” Tilzer, who writes the True News blog, called for a criminal investigation.

Council Members Levine and Cumbo were fined $8,686 and $7,868, respectively last year for accepting illegal contributions from NYCLASS.

 

The Board also voted on enforcement matters for four campaigns involved in the 2013 citywide election cycle.

 

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was fined $850 for accepting contributions from unregistered political committees and making impermissible post-election expenditures. Her campaign had accepted a $50 contribution from the Educational Justice PAC on April 27, 2011. After being notified by the CFB that the EJ PAC was unregistered, the campaign did not promptly refund the contribution. After the November 2013 election, the Viverito’s campaign  paid $3,000 to Brendan S. Kelly on for “consulting,” but failed to prove that it was a permissible post-election expenditure.

On a positive note, Speaker Mark-Viverito’s campaign repaid the CFB $20,361.69 in unspent public funds.

 

Robert Waterman, a Brooklyn pastor and unsuccessful candidate for City Council District 36 in 2013, was fined $3870 for nine campaign finance violations. Waterman’s campaign failed to document alleged in-kind contributions from The Advance Group.

The largest fined assessed Waterman was $1595 for providing insufficient information about the hours worked and pay rate for campaign worker, and failing  to prove that $3,342 paid to a Jennifer Joseph was used in furtherance of the campaign.

 

John Duane, a candidate in 2013 for Queens City Council District 19, was fined a total of $1375 for three violations: late filings of disclosures,  failing to file the required daily pre-election disclosure statements to report three transactions totaling $46,110.62, and accepting donations from two corporations. Candidates participating in the public program are prohibited from accepting contributions from corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships.

 

Ede Fox, a candidate in 2013 for Brooklyn City Council District 35 was fined a total of $1080 for eight violations ranging from failing to report transactions, late filings, failing to provide documentation to making impermissible post-election spending.

 

The CFB also voted to make a public funds payment to Barry Grodenchik, the Democratic candidate for Queens City Council District 23. The Board approved a payment of $997 to Grodenchik, who is favored to win in  the November general election.

 

This post has been updated to note that TAG president Scott Levenson played a role in the illegal coordination activities.

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