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NYC Campaign Finance Board backs expanding straw donor enforcement powers amid Adams campaign issues


The head of New York City’s Campaign Finance Board voiced support Friday for a number of City Council bills that would expand the watchdog entity’s straw donor enforcement powers amid ongoing issues and investigations related to Mayor Adams’ campaign.

Neither the mayor nor his campaign have been accused of wrongdoing. Still, Adams’ 2021 campaign has come under multiple state and federal investigations into allegations that it received a plethora of “straw donations,” which are made by individuals who either draw them up in another unknowing person’s name or reimburses someone to submit the money for them.

That type of political financing is illegal because such donations end up exceeding caps on how much cash an individual can give and can also unlock public matching funds that campaigns aren’t entitled to.

Five Adams campaign supporters, including a friend and ex-NYPD colleague of the mayor, have been criminally convicted to date of pulling off straw donor schemes to boost his 2021 run in hopes it would pave the way for business opportunities with his administration.

Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler, a Democrat who frequently criticizes Adams, held a hearing Friday morning on a set of bills that would beef up the ways in which the Campaign Finance Board could root out straw donations. Repeatedly throughout the hearing, Restler referenced the ongoing probes into Adams’ fundraising operation as a reason for expanding the CFB’s authorities, saying “there were major differences in the way money came into his campaign” compared to the ones of his 2021 mayoral race competitors.

restler

Councilman Lincoln Restler (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News

New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) speaks at a rally on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan, April 21, 2022. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

In response to Restler’s lament, Paul Ryan, the newly-minted executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, testified he couldn’t offer any comment specifically on Adams, citing his agency’s ongoing audit into his 2021 campaign. But Ryan told Restler he’s supportive of many of the bills the hearing focused on.

One bill in particular doesn’t go far enough, Ryan argued.

The measure in question would require campaigns for city public offices to report the mailing addresses of all their donors to the CFB so the board can mail them physical postcards spelling out the details of their contributions.

Ryan said he would like that bill to also require that campaigns report the phone numbers and email addresses of their donors, so the CFB can easily contact them should concerns arise about the legality of their contributions.

“I think it would help uncover those straw donors,” Ryan said, adding that voters are statistically “much more responsive to email and phone contact” compared to paper mail.

Paul Ryan, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board. (nyccfb.info)
Paul Ryan, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board. (nyccfb.info)

Restler said he liked Ryan’s suggestion.

Aside from Restler’s legislative push, Ryan said the CFB’s looking into adopting “more significant technology” for automatically matching signatures on contribution slips, which campaign supporters fill out along with their donations, in order to ensure a person listed as giving money is the same who signed the card.

That revelation comes after news outlet The City reported that several donations made as part of Adams campaign fundraisers in Queens co-hosted by Winnie Greco, a mayoral adviser whose homes were raided by the FBI in February, came in along with cards featuring signatures that didn’t match the ones of the listed contributors.

Ryan also said he’s tentatively supportive of a Restler bill that would require campaigns to respond within 30 days to any requests for information the board issues related to donations it has concerns about.

He also agreed with a third piece of legislation that would expand the definition of and impose new restrictions on “intermediaries” who bundle together donations for campaigns, sometimes on a salaried basis.

Rester’s bills likely can’t become law unless they receive Adams’ support.

Spokespeople for the mayor’s office didn’t immediately return requests for comment after Friday’s hearing.

Ryan did testify he was skeptical of the 30-day bill’s proposal that CFB cease issuance of any public matching funds to campaigns that fail to respond within the proscribed timeline.

“Under this provision, a candidate could respond to a CFB request in the heat of an election only a few days late, with information confirming that all related contributions are lawful and were correctly reported, yet still be completely disqualified from the public matching funds program,” he said.

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