Monday, May 26, 2014

Sequence suggests Ratner donation to D'Amato PAC was routed to Nassau County executive key to Coliseum deal

The transactional relationship between Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner, a self-described liberal Democrat, and political operative Al D'Amato, the former Republican Senator, is more extensive than previously reported. Beyond the article below about a curious campaign contribution, also see description of D'Amato's city/state lobbying and federal lobbying on behalf of Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. Forest City Ratner has paid D'Amato's Park Strategies more than $3 million for lobbying and consultation related to Atlantic Yards and the Nassau Coliseum.

Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner, who last August won the nod to revamp the Nassau Coliseum, did not--according to state campaign finance records--contribute directly to the successful re-election campaign of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who favored Ratner's bid over that of rival Madison Square Garden.

However, it looks as if Ratner and his wife, Pam Lipkin, indirectly gave Mangano's campaign $25,000. Their $12,500 contributions to lobbyist Alfonse D'Amato's PAC, Renew New York were soon followed by a $25,000 contribution from the PAC to Mangano, whose office remains involved in the Coliseum project.

It would not have been illegal for Ratner and Lipkin to make those contributions directly. However, by using D'Amato--a longtime lobbyist for the developer and close political supporter of Mangano--as a conduit, it seems the developer (a staunch Democrat) kept the support (for a Republican) from scrutiny.

(The Long Island Press, which noted that, at the County Executive's victory party,  D'Amato made "no mention of his company’s own financial connection" with Mangano, did not recognize that the Renew New York contribution to Mangano might be traced to Ratner.)

After all, Mangano has been criticized for reaping benefits from those doing business with the county. Numerous companies with county contracts, as well as others who have relationships with Nassau County, were reported last year as routing contributions through local political clubs, an unusual tactic that drew complaints from Democrats (though no fine).

Renew New York is primarily funded by D'Amato, who runs Park Strategies, and is used to distribute contributions statewide. Family members periodically contribute, but there are relatively few outside contributors, so it appears Renew New York operates as another vector for D'Amato influence.

D'Amato posted an op-ed last October 24 supporting Mangano, citing, among other things, the Coliseum revamp. He didn't mention that he was lobbying the County Executive on behalf of Ratner, that Mangano had hired his daughter, or that, just after he'd gotten a contribution from Ratner (and Lipkin), he'd direct the exact same sum to Mangano.

Former Village Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett called D'Amato "the most ethically compromised politician" he ever covered (with "no fucking competition for this").

Looking at the sequence

As of July 2013, records show, Renew New York had $21,412.61 available, after D'Amato had replenished its coffers with $35,000 in his own contributions. The PAC had spent $24,325 by October, so it was temporarily in the red.

On October 2, Ratner and Lipkin each gave Renew New York $12,500. Five days later, the PAC contributed $25,000 to Mangano. (Renew New York separately gave $300 to Mangano last year. Otherwise it had not given to him since a $10,000 contribution in 2009.)

The Ratner/Lipkin contributions were the only contributions to Renew New York, outside of those by D'Amato himself, during the six-month period. The couple had never previously given to the PAC.

(Later, after D'Amato's own contribution, the PAC gave $25,000 to the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and $5,000 to the campaign of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, among others.)

Yes, money's fungible, so it can't be proven that Ratner/Lipkin contributions went to Mangano. But the sequence sure points that way. Remember, Ratner's political contributions are almost always strategic; though the developer considers himself a staunch Democrat and liberal, business considerations have always trumped ideology.

By the way, in New York City, those doing business with the city face a limit of $400 on contributions to citywide office.

What it means

The Renew New York contribution was hardly critical to Mangano's campaign, which raised a million dollars alone during the month before the election, according to Newsday. And Mangano's rival Thomas Suozzi, who formerly worked for Cablevision, did get significant support from Cablevision and MSG executive James Dolan and his parents, each of whom contributed $25,000.

But the Ratner/Lipkin contribution via Renew New York likely was aimed at maintaining good relations with the county executive as plans for the Coliseum project, including a potential second phase, remain under consideration.

A lobbying relationship

Indeed, D'Amato, who sat out the Ratner-MSG battle to get the Coliseum contract, has been paid $15,000 a month since September 2013 by Ratner's Nassau Events Center to lobby both the legislature and Mangano on “economic development activities surrounding the re-development of the Nassau Coliseum." The contract is open-ended.

A D'Amato spokeswoman told Newsday the firm “helped to facilitate introductory meetings” between Ratner and legislators. D'Amato also lobbied Mangano, as the screenshot above right indicates.

So there you have it. Bruce Ratner (seemingly) directs a contribution to Mangano via D'Amato, whom he's also paying to lobby Mangano directly. It's an endless loop--or maybe a mobius strip--of a connection.

It's odd that Ratner and D'Amato worked it this way. Regarding Atlantic Yards, Ratner's firm pays D'Amato's firm both a monthly $5000 lobbying retainer and a $25,000 consultation retainer.

Regarding the Nassau Coliseum, presumably the developer could have added a consultation payment to D'Amato and let the lobbyist do all the work transforming that money into a PAC donation and then PAC expenditure.

Renew New York used to bolster D'Amato's candidacy?

Renew New York has been very useful to D'Amato, such as in the successful 1996 push for an environmental bond act. The Times reported 9/9/96, in Pataki Courts Democrats For Bond Act:
Perhaps for the same reasons, United States Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, who is Mr. Pataki's political mentor, the undisputed leader of the state Republican Party and a strong supporter of Mr. Dole, has also begun promoting the bond act, and breast cancer programs, in radio and television commercials that have been running on Long Island for the last week. The commercials have been financed by a political action committee associated with Mr. D'Amato, Renew New York, whose major contributors are real estate developers.
A 10/22/96 Times analysis of the TV commercial, A Family Approach to Selling a State Bond Act, concluded that it "overstates the case when it claims that Mr. D'Amato has been fighting to pass the bond act" and observed that "this ad seems like a clear effort to bolster him, particularly among moderates who care more about environmental issues than his conservative base."

In a 10/25/96 article headlined Democrat Attacks Ad for Bond Act as an Illegal Plug for D'Amato, the state Democratic Party head argued that D'Amato's fundraising was an end around federal contribution limits of $1,000 per person and $5,000 per corporate PAC.

An 11/4/96 Times article headlined Financing for Environmental Act Shows D'Amato's Influence explained that D'Amato's two PACs, Renew New York and Renew New York/Bond Act, spent nearly $1.5 million for television ads, raising money from real estate developers and out-of-state firms with business in Washington.

Times Magazine columnist Max Frankel, suggesting free or discount airtime in a 2/2/97 column headlined It's the Demand, Stupid, observed:
While the reformers in Washington struggle to close creaky barn doors, New York's unbridled Senator Alfonse D'Amato has been galloping freely beyond their horizon.
Last fall -- more than two years before his next appearance on a ballot to seek re-election -- D'Amato collected more than $2 million for television ads that shamelessly promoted his image while purporting to urge passage of a Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. The ads pictured the Senator and his family in loving embrace and featured his daughter's boasts of how he had saved New Yorkers from all kinds of pollution and maybe even cancer. The true audacity of the ads, however, lay not in their message but in their financing. Sums that far exceeded all Federal campaign limits flowed to two state committees that were named Renew New York, without any reference to D'Amato. And the largest gifts came not just from rich New Yorkers renewing their standing as the Senator's friends but also from bankers, financiers and builders all over the country who are being enriched by the actions and inactions of the Senate Banking Committee and its chairman, Al D'Amato.
Renew New York used to help municipal bond firms?

The Bond Buyer, in a 4/17/97 article headlined N.Y. Lawmaker Calls On Levitt to Widen Scope of Rule G-37, reported:
Charging that municipal bond firms are using soft money contributions to evade the MSRB's Rule G-37, New York State Sen. Franz S. Leichter has urged SEC chairman Arthur Levitt to expand the rule to cover all dealer donations to national, state, and local political parties and committees.
...Leichter's report also found that nine municipal securities firms in 1995 and 1996 contributed $511,500 in soft money to the National Republican Senatorial Committee chaired by D'Amato, and that the committee then transferred roughly $2 million from this account into the campaigns of Pataki and other state Republicans.
The report said that 12 municipal bond firms contributed $265,500 to the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act Committee, which was set up by Pataki to promote last year's $1.75 billion environmental bond act. In addition, the report said the president of one firm donated an additional $25,000 to the "D'Amato-controlled" Renew New York Bond Act Committee.
The Bond Buyer followed up with a 9/30/03 article headlined Muni Consultants Stepping Up Contributions to Issuer Officials:
Nine broker-dealers disclosed that 30 municipal securities consultants made a total of $268,736 in political contributions to issuer officials and other local, state, and federal office-holders and candidates during the first half of 2003 -- more than double the $114,588 in political contributions made by consultants during the same period three years ago.
This was one of the findings of an extensive review by The Bond Buyer of the G-37/G-38 forms that the 15 top-ranked underwriters submitted to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board during the first halves of 2000 and 2003....The review found RBC Dain Rauscher Inc. reported the most political contributions made by consultants -- $84,615 contributed by five of its 13 muni securities consultants, during the first half of 2003.
Guess the firm's biggest consultant political donor? D'Amato's Park Strategies

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