The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“Commission”) today announced it has reached settlement agreements with two lobbying organizations and individual lobbyists over alleged Lobbying Act violations related to donations made by them to the Campaign for One New York (“CONY”). CONY is a not-for-profit corporation formed in late 2013 by Bill Hyers, Stephanie Yazgi and Ross Offinger, three former campaign officials of City of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio (“the Mayor”) from which the Mayor sought and obtained support for his legislative and policy objectives. Offinger was CONY’s treasurer and chief fundraiser as well as a fundraiser for the Mayor’s election campaign.
These settlements arose out of an investigation opened in 2015 in which the Commission learned of lobbyists and clients of lobbyists who, while actively lobbying New York City officials, including the mayor, donated to CONY at the request of either the Mayor or Offinger. Following the March 2017 announcement by the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York that it had completed its investigation into fundraising by and on behalf of the Mayor (including CONY’s activities) and would not be filing criminal charges, the Commission resumed investigating these matters under its mandate to regulate the activities of lobbyists and their clients in New York State.
Lobbyist James F. Capalino, individually and on behalf of his business, James F. Capalino and Associates, Inc., agreed to pay $40,000 to settle the Commission’s investigation into allegations of Lobbying Act violations. Capalino has admitted that in or about April 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio directly solicited his support of the work of CONY, and advised Capalino that then-CONY treasurer Ross Offinger would contact him.
In May 2015, Capalino contributed $10,000 to CONY and obtained a further $90,000 in contributions to CONY from nine of his lobbying clients. Soon after, Capalino worked with Offinger to arrange a meeting among those clients, Capalino, and the Mayor that took place in September 2015. Capalino was retained by those clients to lobby the City of New York, the Mayor, and his senior staff.
In the second settlement, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (“NYCLASS”), its co-founder and president Steven Nislick, and board member Wendy Neu, settled allegations that they had violated the Lobbying Act. NYCLASS agreed to pay $10,000 to settle the Commission’s inquiry into the allegations.
NYCLASS, Nislick, and Neu admit that in 2014, while they lobbied New York City officials and the Mayor on issues related to the horse carriage industry and replacing those carriages with electric-powered vehicles, Nislick was asked by the Mayor to donate to CONY, and Nislick in turn asked Neu to donate. Both agreed to donate $25,000, which Neu did, but Nislick was told by Offinger that his donation could not be accepted because the Mayor had solicited him directly. The next year, Nislick gave $50,000 to CONY, and Neu made a second donation of that same amount. NYCLASS admitted it failed to register with the Commission as a lobbyist, and will file the appropriate documents as part of the settlement.
Each of the parties to these settlements have fully cooperated with the Commission by providing statements and requested information. The Commission’s investigation relating to donations to CONY is continuing.