De Blasio refunds campaign cash to donors who do business with city

Some late big-money donors to Mayor Bill de Blasio who do business with the city got the attention of the new mayor at a bargain price: newly released campaign finance data shows that they are getting most of their gifts refunded.

In all, the campaign committee of de Blasio is refunding $40,125 to donors according to its latest filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board. That comes on top of $225,000 refunded previously, out of the $10.6 million total raised by de Blasio.

Nearly half of the refunds went to individuals who are barred from donating more than $400 because they are contractors, bidders or lobbyists with business before the city. At least 16 donors on the list made contributions into the thousands of dollars to the de Blasio campaign, most in late October, when the candidate was the overwhelming favorite to win election.

Mayor Bill de Blasio greets the crowd after being sworn in at his inauguration ceremony. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Mayor Bill de Blasio greets the crowd after being sworn in at his inauguration ceremony. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Other donors whose contributions were refunded exceeded the city’s contribution limit of $4,950 per election.

Making a political contribution is a common tactic to maximize access to newly elected officials. “You want your phone calls to be returned, to be able to schedule an appointment and you don’t want government agencies to suddenly regulate your business,” said Kenneth Sherrill, political science professor emeritus at Hunter College.

“You want to be in good terms with whoever is in power.”

Among the big-ticket donors getting a refund are Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio and Barnes & Noble Retail Group CEO Mitchell S. Klipper. The de Blasio campaign can only keep $400 from Riggio’s $4,950 donation, made on October 28. Ditto for Klipper’s $1,000 donation from October 30. Barnes and Nobles has a $14 million contract with the city’s Department of Education, awarded last summer.

The CEO of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, Richard Rosenbaum, is getting a refund on his $2,500 contribution, made October 30. Greenberg Traurig frequently lobbies the city on behalf of real estate development projects.

Gurcharan Singh, president of the Syosset-based Lakhi General Contractor, also saw his $2,500 check reduced to $400. The company has or has been seeking construction contracts with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and School Construction Authority.

The refunds follow a review from the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which looks at contributions for the ongoing business restrictions, its spokesman Matthew Sollars said.

Individuals who do business with the city were barred outright from making financial contributions to de Blasio’s transition, which raised $2 million.

Sherrill urges giving the benefit of the doubt to overeager donors. ”It’s possible that whoever writes the check was someone who was sufficiently inexperienced in election law that they gave too much,” he said.

“I hate to call the operatives of big businesses innocent, but this may have been an innocent mistake.”

In addition to the private donations, de Blasio received nearly $4 million from the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s matching funds program, and he has an estimated $1.1 million left in his campaign account.

Correction: A previous version of this story said de Blasio had refunded $37,500.

Data Tools


Our work has appeared in…

About TNYW

The New York World focuses on producing data-driven investigative projects.