Friday, October 23, 2009

Profitable Investigation Points in the Right Direction

It looks as if AG Cuomo is serious about his pledge to investigate the political activities of so called not-for-profits in New York. If you remember, we jump started some of this when we helped to point out the questionable activities of Claire Shulman and her papier-mâché LDC. Our actions-along with a letter to Cuomo's office, was reported on by the NY Times.

As the Times report said: "The attorney general’s office is reviewing the complaint. In recent months, the office has been looking into lobbying by local development corporations, and has identified a “small but not insignificant set” of groups that appear to be improperly lobbying, said a person briefed on the attorney general’s initial review."

Now the first phase of the AG's efforts is beginning to bear fruit-as the NY Post exclusive story reveals today: "As part of a probe into sleazy "pay-to-play" donations made by nonprofit groups, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has ordered dozens of charities to take back illegal contributions they've made to politicians -- or lose their tax-exempt status, The Post has learned. Cuomo has begun notifying individual charities by letter that he's on to their wrongdoing. His office has uncovered improper campaign donations to state and city lawmakers that have been made by dozens of nonprofits, despite laws that bar them from such political activity. "The issue of charities or not-for-profits giving political contributions is a matter we are currently investigating. It is not appropriate, and it is not legal, and we want to make sure it doesn't happen anymore," a spokesman for Cuomo told The Post."

This is, as we have pointed out, only the tip of the iceberg. And Shulman's political effort went way beyond simply writing a check. As the Queens Tribune laid out: "In the build-up and battle for the redevelopment of the Iron Triangle, the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation championed the proposed rezoning and rebuilding of the 62-acre plot of land. With former Borough President Claire Shulman, 83, at the helm, the corporation actively promoted Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan. It initially hired prominent lobbying firm the Parkside Group before advocating the plan to elected officials – and then taking over those duties itself, spending about $450,000 on lobbying efforts."

If pay for play is your target, than Shulman's group is the poster child here. But the focus takes on a different dimension when Mike Blooomberg is involves-since whenever he is, the money flows, but it does so downstream from his own rich mother load. And we're hopeful that Cuomo will expand the scope of his investigation and recognize the Shulman scheme for what it is-an improper use of not-for-profit staus to achieve a political goal.

The AG's office gets the larger picture-so we're relatively confident that it will rathchet up its probe; even if it hits close to his home base of Queens: "Federal and state laws bar non-profits from making donations to candidates or officeholders, as well as participating in their campaigns.
Charities that break the law risk losing their tax-exempt status."

As should Claire's bogus LDC. But if Cuomo does do this, and the LDC is chastised properly, will the entire effort to rezone Willets Point be legally tainted (as fruit of the poisonous tree)? Let's see how the Ag's investigation continues-but Willets Point United urges him to show no fear or favor when it comes to the breaking of the law in these matters.