A Question of Candor

New Council Speaker Misled Campaign Finance Officials, Ducked Limits

In fact, however, Council 2001 had already raised thousands of dollars outside the CFB limits prior to Miller's request for the agency's advisory opinion, and prior to the opt-in deadline. It would have had to return those donations had Miller joined the program and had the CFB ruled that Council 2001 was also a covered organization. Asked why Council 2001 didn't just voluntarily abide by CFB limits even though he and the PAC weren't participating in the system, Miller said that it instead set a $5000 ceiling on donations. While far less than any PAC maximum permissible under state law, this self-imposed cap is still twice the CFB limit. Miller correctly pointed out that his own individual re-election committee did abide by CFB limits, taking no corporate or over-the-limit donations. But 72 of the 123 donors to Miller's personal committee also gave to Council 2001, suggesting that contributors willing to give more than the max were simply told to give it to the PAC.

Not surprisingly, several council candidates backed by the PAC (13 of whom lost) confirmed Miller's technical separation from it, but conceded in a variety of ways that they thought he was strongly connected to the committee. Gale Brewer, the new West Side councilwoman who got $2000 from Council 2001, said that "it was always my impression that its purpose was to elect Miller speaker," adding that "there was a fuzzy line" drawn between it and Miller to keep it separate.

James Van Bramer, a Queens candidate who lost, described a PAC interview that did not include Miller, but said that he knew the councilman "was an active and influential member." Acknowledging that in addition to the PAC interview he also had a private conversation with Miller, he said he could not remember whether the $2000 he received preceded or followed the Miller talk. PAC treasurer Hammond said he and "everybody" on the executive committee frequently "talked to Gifford" about endorsements, but that he "didn't play an official role."

Gifford Miller congratulated at the council after his election as speaker on January 9
photo: Cary Conover
Gifford Miller congratulated at the council after his election as speaker on January 9

As speaker, Miller will exercise great influence over the CFB, with two appointees on its five-member board and his consent required on the appointment of the chair. In his last days in office, Giuliani vetoed a council bill that the CFB opposed. The bill, which would allow candidates with outstanding debts to circumvent contribution limits, may come up again in the council. Due to Bloomberg's record-shattering campaign expenditures outside the system, efforts to reform it may also come before Miller's council. His record raises doubts about whether Miller will be as supportive of the system as Vallone, who was presented with the same choice as Miller and decided to bring both his individual re-election committee and his PAC under compliance with CFB rules.

Research assistance by: Peter Bailey, Sam Dolnick, Martine Guerrier, and Jeffrey Herman

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