Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor took in contributions exceeding legal limits from a member of his inaugural committee whose organization holds $168 million in contracts with the city.
As he ran for mayor last year, de Blasio took in $2,500 in contributions from Yitzchok Leshinsky, the head of a not-for-profit called Housing Bridge that runs shelters for the Department of Homeless Services.
Under New York City campaign finance rules, executives of organizations that do business with the city are barred from donating more than $400 to a mayoral candidate.
Another stream of donations — all in compliance with campaign finance rules — flowed from Leshinsky’s household to de Blasio, records show. Leshinsky’s wife maxed out on her allowable contributions to the candidate with $4,950, and gave another $4,500 to his transition effort. Yitzchok Leshinsky also directed $2,500 in funds to de Blasio by bundling them as an intermediary.
In all, Leshinsky and his wife brought nearly $15,000 to the de Blasio cause, counting public matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Leshinsky was also a financial backer of de Blasio’s 2009 winning bid for public advocate.
“There was no intent to violate any regulations and hopefully the campaign will refund the money,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who spoke on behalf of Leshinsky.
“The reason he donated is because he and Mr. de Blasio had been friends for a long period of time. And Mr. de Blasio looked like he had absolutely no shot at being the mayor at that point,” Sheinkopf added. “Mr. Leshinsky stood by his friend.”
A spokesperson from the de Blasio campaign said that if Yitzchok and Isaac Leshinsky were confirmed to be the same person, the portion of his contribution that was over the limit would be returned, as would the $175 the campaign obtained in public matching funds following the donation.
The spokesperson added that all contributions to the campaign had been checked against the official “Doing Business Database” listing high-ranking individuals at private firms who seek contracts with or lobby the city, and that when over-the-limit contributions were found the campaign promptly returned them.
The New York City Campaign Finance Board conducts its own review of donors in coordination with candidates to weed out those with business before the city. It, too, relies on the Doing Business Database for the review.
That review did not flag the contributions from Leshinsky, who does business with the city under the first name Isaac but made his contributions as Yitzchok.
A news release from the de Blasio transition announcing members of the inaugural committee listed him as Yitzchok “Isaac” Leshinsky.
“The CFB’s review process matches contributions to candidates against the City’s Doing Business Database, and in this instance that process did not identify a match,” Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matthew Sollars said. “Following each citywide election, the CFB conducts a thorough review of its operations and makes changes as needed.”
Sollars said the pay-to-play restrictions on donations from city contractors are designed to reduce the possibility or perception that individuals who have a business relationship with the city can buy influence by making large campaign contributions.
Last month, de Blasio refunded $40,125 to donors, nearly half to individuals whose contributions had exceeded the limit set for contractors, bidders or lobbyists with business before the city.
Meanwhile, Leshinsky’s business with the city continues to grow. He founded and continues to advise a for-profit firm called Bridge to Employment, which occupies an office next door to Housing Bridge headquarters on Coney Island Ave.
This week, in a process initiated by the Bloomberg administration, the Department of Homeless Services announced that it was negotiating a $400,000 contract with Bridge to Employment to provide job-placement services for homeless shelter residents in the Bronx. Bridge to Employment’s pitch touted Leshinsky as a “pioneer and innovator” in the field of homeless services.