The press in New York City continues to pick through the carcass of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failed presidential campaign and they’re still finding some interesting tidbits. (The national press isn’t showing much interest, likely because Hizzoner never got above zero percent in the polls.) One of the first things we learned was that the Mayor hired his son Dante and one of his college buddies to work on his staff as policy analysts, both earning an admirable salary.
That probably wasn’t illegal, but now the New York Post has come up with an even more intriguing report that’s a bit more dubious. Turns out that de Blasio was using his City Hall staff to do work benefitting his presidential campaign. The details of the work and the legality of such practices still need more study, however.
Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly used his City Hall staff to boost his 2017 re-election bid while state and federal authorities were investigating his campaign fundraising practices, according to internal emails released Thursday.
City rules prevent public employees from using their official time for political purposes. Yet over 205 pages of emails between the mayor and his two sets of staff, obtained through a Freedom of Information request and first reported by the Daily News, show that they routinely flouted those rules.
In the most glaring example happened in December 2016 when the mayor asked his campaign and City Hall staff to coordinate a meeting with a deep-pocketed donor — and then tried to rope a deputy mayor into the fundraising effort.
De Blasio’s office is defending the one incident highlighted in the report by saying there’s “nothing prohibiting the teams from coordinating on scheduling.” That may be true in theory, but they’re supposed to be doing it on their own time and not using taxpayer-funded computers and other resources to do it.
But even that part isn’t entirely clear. If we were talking about a federal official in the executive branch this would clearly fall under the Hatch Act. But since we’re talking about a municipal official and his staff engaged in campaigning for a federal office, the waters become a bit muddier. A spokesman for good government group Reinvent Albany was quoted as saying that de Blasio needed more of a “state versus church divide” to keep his campaign separate from his official duties and avoid the appearance of impropriety. But even they weren’t going far enough to say this was a violation of the law.
The press has landed an entire trove of emails between de Blasio and his two groups of staff members so I’m guessing this won’t be the last we’ll hear of this issue. One of his campaign staffers attempted to have the event mentioned above held at City Hall before someone put a collar on him and said that would cross the line. It’s difficult to imagine that more mistakes weren’t made over the course of the summer.
Is any of this really surprising? Bill de Blasio has been playing fast and loose with campaign finance laws since he first ran for office. He also plays serious hard-ball politics and his opponents all know it. Yet he always seems to get away with all of these hijinks, so why would he worry about issues like using his mayoral staff to do work on his POTUS campaign?