Sunday, May 1, 2016
An influential labor-union lawyer has guided Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to raise abundant political cash amid the labyrinth of city and state campaign-finance laws.
Longtime de Blasio pal Kevin Finnegan — a former political director of the powerful SEIU 1199 hospital-workers union — found ways for labor groups to funnel cash to de Blasio’s campaigns and causes in amounts above legal spending limits, said a source familiar with the mayor’s campaign practices.
It’s an open question whether Finnegan’s ideas led de Blasio afoul of the law. The mayor and some aides are now at the center of investigations into their fund-raising practices.
But Finnegan’s tutoring has been the basis of de Blasio’s handling of political cash.
“Finnegan knew what de Blasio wanted to do, and he came up with the structure to do it,” one source said. “He was, in effect, de Blasio’s lawyer, architect and banker.”
“Their goal was to win elections. They knew where they wanted to get the money from, and they figured out a way to get labor-union money to his campaigns.”
As general counsel of the Working Families Party, Finnegan oversaw the creation of the consulting firm Data Field Services in February 2007, according to state corporation records and court fillings.
When de Blasio ran in 2009 as a WFP-backed candidate for public advocate, his campaign paid $68,000 for Data Field Services’ canvassing and phone-banking services.
Investigators suspected that the firm’s work for de Blasio cost more than $68,000, and that it was indirectly funded by WFP and labor largesse.
WFP pumped $560,000 into the firm’s coffers, state campaign records show. That money may have allowed the firm to reduce its consulting rates to de Blasio.
The city Campaign Finance Board and a special prosecutor, who subpoenaed Finnegan, investigated but brought no charges.
But the alleged funneling of funds with Finnegan’s guidance appears to have set a pattern for other de Blasio campaigns.
After his election as public advocate, de Blasio turned the Fund for the Public Advocacy, a nonprofit set up to address constituent issues, into a group that boosted his political bona fides.
He installed another mentor, Harold Ickes, as its president, ramped up its coffers, increasing contributions from $39,200 in 2009 to $457,839 in 2010 and hauled in $1.6 million over four years, federal tax filings show.
When de Blasio ran for mayor, he turned again to Finnegan.
SEIU 1199, where Finnegan was then political director, was the only major labor group to back de Blasio in the 2013 mayoral primary. Finnegan helped coordinate members’ voter-outreach efforts in support of de Blasio.
Finnegan’s law firm represented another union group, UNITE HERE!, run by de Blasio’s cousin. UNITE HERE! funneled $175,000 on June 1, 2013, to the animal-rights group NYCLASS, which has fought for a ban on horse carriages.
Two days later, NYCLASS gave the money to a political action committee that bought TV ads attacking rival Christine Quinn for opposing the ban.
After becoming mayor, de Blasio and campaign advisers founded the nonprofit Campaign for One New York. Like the Fund for Public Advocacy, it was used to raise unlimited amounts of money to push his agenda.
Finnegan’s union gave $500,000 to the campaign. UNITE HERE! added $400,000.
Finnegan, who left SEIU 1199 in November, did not return messages. A union spokesman did not answer questions about its relationship with the mayor.
Now prosecutors are examining several of the charities and fund-raising practices de Blasio and his brain trust set up.
De Blasio himself has not been subpoenaed. He has said that “everything was done legally and appropriately.”