Sunday, September 6, 2009

Adam Lisberg No firewalls: Working Families Party straddles thin line between party, nonprofit

Adam Lisberg

Sunday, September 6th 2009, 4:00 AM

The Working Families Party has achieved more clout in recent years including having Hillary Clinton as a speaker in 2000.
The Working Families Party has achieved more clout in recent years including having Hillary Clinton as a speaker in 2000.

The Working Families Party was called on the carpet last week for potentially violating New York's tough campaign finance laws.

The labor-backed party uses its aggressive field operation to get its favorite candidates elected - then pushes them to vote its way on issues like paid sick leave for workers, higher taxes on the rich and tougher rent regulations.

It also operates a rent-a-campaign company, Data and Field Services, which sells its canvassing and voter turnout services to candidates it endorses.

Last week, the Campaign Finance Board said the two ought to be considered one and the same because they share an office and a staff, and "there are no apparent firewalls between them."

That raises interesting questions about another little-known operation in Working Families' Brooklyn office - the Working Families Organization.

The organization is a lobbying and advocacy nonprofit group focused on the same goals as the party - but with far less scrutiny of what it spends and receives.

"The Working Families Organization works closely with the Working Families Party to advance progressive policies," said Dan Levitan, spokesman for both. "The Working Families Organization is involved in no campaign-related activity."

That line can get blurry, though, and hard to enforce - especially when the Working Families Organization spends money to push an issue that a Working Families Party-backed candidate supports.

"It seems to diffuse attention and obscure what's happening," said one independent observer. "They all share the same office space. They all come from the same space. They are all supported and are one and the same with the labor community."

The The Working Families Organization files an annual tax return to justify its nonprofit status, a release made every fall with little indication of where the previous year's money went.

It also shows up in city lobbying records, spending $14,209 last year for Levitan and the party's political guru, William Lipton, to lobby Mayor Bloomberg on a "resolution" - presumably the term-limits extension that Working Families tried to stop.

The organization's 2007 tax return - its most recent available, as provided by Levitan - shows it took in $658,000, almost all of it from unions. The largest by far was the national Service Employees International Union, donating $358,000.

The party spent $700,000, largely on "study and formulation of improved nonpartisan public policy through coordinated use of volunteers."

What does that mean? Who knows?

New York's campaign finance system is a persnickety watchdog, sometimes maddeningly so, but its goal is to let every New Yorker know exactly who is trying to buy its politicians' support.

Levitan says the party fully complies with the letter and spirit of the law. But as the Campaign Finance Board digs deeper, the organization's opaque balance sheets raise more questions than they answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mayor where do you stand with Acorn and SEIU, since you hug and kiss Bertha Lewis Acorn and do benefits for SEIU and local union members. The new project in Coney Island has SEIU written all over it, Starrett City, and lets not forget your education stance according to Howard Wolfson who appeared on NY1 the other day stating your drop out rate is lower and students seem to be learning and graduating now. Is this the truth since Howard Wolfson is a part of the UFT and also his company Glover Park Group with Blizzard Communications receives 4 mil to media them. Seems a little fishy to me. What is your response and not Howard Wolfson speaking for you. If you need fact I can supply.

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