NEW YORK—Three members of John Liu’s campaign for mayor of New York have either admitted to committing crimes (without being charged), or have significant evidence against them, according to the Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which denied Liu $3.5 million in public matching funds Aug. 5.
“The evidence suggests that the potential violations are serious and pervasive across the campaign’s fundraising,” CFB Chair Father Joseph Parkes, S.J. said at CFB headquarters on Monday.
The three members still working on Liu’s campaign—one who received a promotion after admitting guilt—were subjects of an FBI investigation that culminated in two of Liu’s aides being found guilty on May 2 by a federal court for attempting to defraud New York City by using straw donors to illegally obtain public matching funds for Liu’s 2013 mayoral campaign.
The matching funds program awards candidates $6 for every $1 donated, with an individual limit of $175, in an effort to promote small donations and curb large corporate donations.
The board said it came to its decision based on evidence revealed at the court trial as well as its own investigation.
“Several key personnel involved in fundraising while potential violations have occurred have maintained positions of significant responsibility within the campaign throughout the 2013 election cycle. The campaign has placed in a major role at least one person who admitted to a plan to violate campaign finance law,” the CFB said in a statement.
During the trial, Sharon Lee, who is now a press secretary for Liu’s comptroller campaign, and was a part-time volunteer for his mayoral campaign in 2011 and 2012, openly admitted to offering to reimburse approximately five donors.
The defense tried to show Lee was just making calls to family and that it was not a part of a plan to get straw donors, however the prosecution showed GChat conversations made from the same room as Jenny Hou, at the same time, making very similar requests.
Lee was hired on April 1, 2013, to handle press relations and related matters, according to Martin Connor, Liu’s campaign lawyer.
Liu also currently employs Mei Hua Ru, whose phone was tapped for 18 months by the FBI based on her association with Pan.
Chung Seto, an aide, was an intermediary for “several problematic contributions” discussed in a third party report commissioned by the CFB.
Dismiss All Donations
Liu’s campaign received 6,330 contributions with 1,751 of them deemed invalid by the CFB. A little more than 800 of those were cash contributions, according to Connor.
Connor suggested the unquestioned donations be considered, however, the CFB rejected the offer.
“It is the campaign’s responsibility to maintain compliance with the act and the rules,” Loprest said following the hearing.
Liu supporters have argued since he was not charged, he should be allowed to participate. “The candidate is ultimately responsible for the campaign’s compliance with the law,” Parkes said.
Connor said he will appeal the decision. They must first go through the CFB, which typically takes a week.
“There is a real problem here—time,” Connor said. “By the time you get to State Supreme Court, we will be in August.”
Connor said the CFB automatically gets an appeal, which would bring the decision past Labor Day at least before heading to the Appellate Division.
“If you win Appellate Division and it is five or six days before the election, what are you going to do with $3 million?” Connor asked.
Liu would have to return any unused funds to the CFB.