City comptroller John Liu, whose campaign finances are under federal investigation, apparently doesn’t quite get it. He admits that recent revelations about dubious record-keeping and shady fund-raising practices, along with the federal indictment of one of his fund-raisers, are “quite embarrassing.” No kidding. But investigators aren’t looking to embarrass the comptroller. They’re trying to enforce laws that Mr. Liu’s campaign may have skirted or violated. That should be more than merely “embarrassing.”
Mr. Liu still won’t reveal the identities of fund-raisers who have collected contributions from friends, family or co-workers. Known as “bundlers,” these fund-raisers are supposed to be identified in campaign finance records. But Mr. Liu’s campaign hasn’t provided that information, as required by law. The comptroller had a chance during a public appearance last week to provide the names, or at least to indicate when his campaign will do so. But he did not.
Several weeks ago, when revelations about Mr. Liu’s campaign fund-raising made headlines, the comptroller asked former State Attorney General Robert Abrams to conduct an independent inquiry. It was a bold and welcome move, albeit one made only after Mr. Liu backed down from his insistence that the inquiry could be handled in-house. At the time, this page noted that Mr. Abrams was the right man for the job—he would quit rather than be complicit in a whitewash.
Well, Mr. Abrams has resigned. The comptroller’s attorney asked Mr. Abrams to suspend his investigation after federal prosecutors opened an inquiry of their own. Mr. Abrams saw no conflict between his work and that of federal investigators. The request, he said, compromised his independence. So he quit.
This is serious business, indeed, but Mr. Liu apparently believes that he can continue to delay and obfuscate while still positioning himself as a mayoral candidate in 2013. He refuses to explain why he cannot provide a list of bundlers immediately. He offers no explanation for his campaign’s shoddy record-keeping. He seems indifferent to concerns raised about his ability to oversee his campaign’s finances—this is a man, remember, in charge of monitoring the city’s treasury.
Mr. Liu needs to reassess his plans for 2013. His campaign is under federal investigation. He has stonewalled efforts to obtain basic information about his fund-raisers. He cannot—and should not—be considered a serious candidate for mayor while investigators are raising questions about his fund-raising.
He should announce, now, that he will not be a candidate for mayor in 2013. He should spend his spare time trying to sort out his campaign’s tangled finances rather than making stump speeches throughout the five boroughs. His continued presence in the shadow campaign to succeed Michael Bloomberg would be, frankly, a joke.
Mr. Liu has more important work to do than run a campaign for mayor. It’s time to get it done.