An investigation into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his political fundraising that implicated the Putnam County Democratic Committee was dropped last week, state prosecutors announced.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. confirmed Thursday even though de Blasio violated the spirit of election law when he steered large sums of money to the Putnam Democratic Committee, the embattled mayor and his staff weren’t going to face criminal charges after the more than two-year probe came to an end.
During the 2014 campaign season, de Blasio and associates were accused of skirting campaign contribution limits by having unions, limited liability companies and individuals donate large sums of money to county committees, including the Putnam County Democratic Committee, which then filtered most of that money to Democratic candidates. The campaign limit contribution an individual or entity can currently make is currently $10,500.
Vance, in a letter to the New York State Board of Elections, wrote that the Putnam Democratic Committee received contributions totaling $671,329 in 2014 and then transferred $640,750 to the campaigns of Justin Wagner and Terry Gipson, two former Democratic state senate candidates to avoid the contribution limit. The last time the Putnam Democratic Committee came close to that fundraising mark was 2012 when it ushered in $38,651, according to Vance.
Vance wrote because de Blasio and his staff relied on legal counsel, it’d be hard to charge them with an actual crime. But he still had stinging words for the Democrat up for reelection this year.
“This conclusion is not an endorsement of the conduct at issue; indeed, the transactions appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits, laws which are meant to prevent ‘corruption and the appearance of corruption’ in the campaign financing process,” Vance wrote.
(Acting US Attorney Joon Kim also confirmed de Blasio would not face charges as the federal investigation into him was dropped into other fundraising matters.)
Defiantly, de Blasio, said he and his staff “did things legally, appropriately, ethically and for causes that really matter to people within New York City.”
New York State Senator Terrene Murphy originally raised questions in 2014 about the money flowing to the Putnam Democratic Committee and to then Democratic senate candidates in the Lower Hudson Valley. He called the news of the non-indictment “incredibly disappointing.” (Murphy easily beat Wagner for the 40th state senate seat that year.)
He described the maneuver by de Blasio and the Putnam Democratic Committee “a blatant attempt to evade campaign finance limits imposed by New York State and used people with business in front of New York City to do so.”
“Now more than ever we must pass legislation to update our campaign finance laws starting with the closure of the Bill de Blasio Loophole,” Murphy said. His office stated Murphy has sponsored a bill that would charge any person acting on behalf of a public officer or candidate who solicits a contribution to a county or town committee for a candidate to whom such direct contribution is unlawful with felony instead of a misdemeanor charge.
Current chairman of the Putnam Democratic Committee Jim Borkowski defended the money it received and then gave to Wagner and Gipson as within the law. (Ken Harper was the former chairman when the probe first hit the fan and also said back then the committee did nothing wrong.)
“We have maintained since the beginning of this investigation that all we did during the 2014 election was the same thing we always do: Support and campaign for Democratic candidates and ideas,” Borkowski said in an email. “We are pleased that state and federal prosecutors agree that our efforts complied with the law. We will continue to fight for the Democratic party in Putnam County and throughout New York State.”