Complaint Filed Against Advance Group for Election Work

Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito embrace. (Photo: Twitter/jacobkornbluh)

Melissa Mark-Viverito celebrates her victory in the council chambers. (Photo: Twitter/@jacobkornbluh)

A longtime critic of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has turned his sights on the consulting firm that helped to dismantle her mayoral hopes and elect her rival to succeed her.

Louis Flores, a local political gadfly who ran a blog and wrote a book criticizing Ms. Quinn, has filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s criminal division against Scott Levenson and his Advance Group consulting firm, which came under deep scrutiny during the mayoral campaign.

The complaint alleges that Mr. Levenson and his group broke the law this election season by working for both candidates as well as independent expenditures backing them, which is barred, and allowing staffers with the firm to provide unpaid assistance to Melissa Mark-Viverito’s successful campaign for City Council Speaker–allegedly breaking city ethics rules to gain leverage for future clients.

“Conduct and activities of The Advance Group during the last election cycle may have involved the coordinating of independent expenditure Super PAC’s with official campaigns, and The Advance Group provided unpaid lobbying services to a public official and, as a consequence, The Advance Group will benefit from selling access to the public official to influence official acts,” reads the complaint, which was expected to be delivered today–the four year anniversary of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited outside spending.

The Advance Group has come under scrutiny in recent months, thanks to a series of reports, led by Crain’s New York Business, delving into their election efforts. The revelations included a charge that the teachers’ union’s committee paid over $370,000 to an apparently fake political consulting firm called “Strategic Consultants Inc.,” which was actually Advance.

Politicker first reported in November that the group was also quietly aiding Ms. Mark-Viverito in her quest to become speaker–but was never paid, according to Ms. Mark-Viverito’s state finance filings. Ms. Mark-Viverito continued to receive assistance from the group’s Jonathan Yedin, who helped broker the deal that got Ms. Mark-Viverto elected, sources said.

But the group downplayed the allegations, which come following at least one other complaint filed with the Campaign Finance Board.

“We have no information on any such complaint and as we have said from the beginning all independent expenditures were made independently of any campaign.” the group’s spokeswoman, Chelsea Connor, said in a statement.

Pressed on the allegations of unpaid work she added, “In this Country everybody has a right to complain.”

A spokesman for the city’s Campaign Finance Board, which is responsible for investigating campaign spending, declined to comment on any matters regarding the group or potential investigations, as did a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office. Spokesmen for Ms. Mark-Viverito and the Conflicts of Interest Board also declined to weigh in.

Mr. Flores, who earned a reputation criticizing Ms. Quinn, said he was bringing the matter to the attention of the U.S. attorney because he felt the Campaign Finance Board and Conflicts of Interest Board, whose members are appointed by the mayor and speaker, were too close to the issue to provide sufficient oversight.

“I’m looking for a really independent look at what went on during the election,” he said, “especially wondering the amount of money that was flying everywhere.”

As for his decision to criticize Ms. Mark-Viverito, he said that, just like under Ms. Quinn, he was worried about the level of influence lobbyists were gaining as well as the unfair advantage the new speaker may have received.

“It creates an imbalance in government,” he added. “I’m happy to have Democrats in power, but where are the checks and balances?”