Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monserrate Indicted: Double Standard?

The big news for us in the federal indictment against former state senator Monserrate, was the fact that the US attorney-along with the city's Department of Investigation-believes that politically diverting public money earmarked for not for profits is a criminal offense. As the NY Times reports: "Former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled from office earlier this year and whose conduct was held up as an example of Albany’s dysfunction, was indicted on Tuesday on federal charges that accuse him of using workers at a Queens nonprofit group he financed to aid in his Senate campaign."

Ok, but what happens when the entire purpose of funding for a certain not for profit is for an illegal political use? This is the case of the allegations against Claire Shulman's Willets Point/Corona...LDC. In that situation the city ponied up over $500,000 for Claire to lobby and generate grass roots support for the mayor's Willets Point Development plan. It is an absolute illegality to lobby as a registered not for profit in NY State-not to mention a violation of federal IRS statutes as well.

But, we guess that Monserrate's sin was that he was doing this on his own behalf-and didn't raise quite as much money as Claire did: "In 2006 and 2007 when he was a city councilman, Mr. Monserrate, a Democrat, allocated approximately $300,000 in discretionary city funds to the group, the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment Inc., or Libre, according to the indictment. Roughly a third of that money was used to pay employees of Libre, a tax-exempt social service agency, for time they spent on voter registration, petitioning and other campaign work."

So, tell us, is it worse for Monseratte to be self serving than it is for Claire-and the mayor as well-to divert public funds into promoting a development that will force scores of property owners and thousands of workers out of business? In our view, the law needs to be enforced fairly-and without fear or favor. The Monseratte situation appears to be the classic case of the beating of a dead horse. It takes a bit more moxie to go after Bloomberg and his toadies, now doesn't it?

And we love the comments from the US Attorney on all of this: "At the news conference, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, noted that Mr. Monserrate was one of several elected officials charged with corruption over the past two years, and the third city councilman to be accused of misappropriating money intended for groups whose mission was to help the very communities they served. “No campaign should ever be funded by fraud,” Mr. Bharara said. “Worthy nonprofits have access to public money because they’re meant to be a resource to the community, not a piggy bank to politicians,” Mr. Bharara said."

But that is exactly what the WP LDC was for the mayor-a fraudulent piggy bank. And listen to the following remarks from the US Attorney: "Mr. Monserrate, he said, outsourced much of his 2006 campaign to a nonprofit group that he essentially controlled, using it as an “alter ego to his political operations.”

Piggy bank, alter ego-precisely what the mayor set up with his Shulman front group. Now let's see if justice is going to be even handed-and if the NYS AG's office is going to pursue the investigation even after the mayor's endorsement of his candidacy. If not, we have an active federal prosecutor who should be eager to jump in to break the piggy bank.