NYCLASS Slapped With $26,000 in ‘Severe’ Fines for 2013 Violations

A NYCLASS protest against the horse carriage industry. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A NYCLASS protest against the horse carriage industry. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Campaign Finance Board slapped NYCLASS with $26,000 in fines today, delivering a blistering rebuke to the powerful animal rights group.

The CFB fined NYCLASS $16,054 for illegally coordinating independent expenditures on behalf of two 2013 City Council candidates and $10,000 for misrepresenting those expenditures as independent when, in the determination of the CFB, they were not. While NYCLASS has blamed their old consultant, the Advance Group, for misleading them, the CFB blasted NYCLASS, also known as New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, for not taking responsibility for their wrongdoing.

“These are very serious and severe penalties. They are very severe because there were very serious violations by NYCLASS,” said Richard Davis, a CFB board member. “The Board feels very strongly that if you’re going to become an independent spender you cannot outsource responsibility for compliance with the law. That is the responsibility of the independent spender and that responsibility was not met here.”

The fines came in connection to the Mark Levine and Laurie Cumbo campaigns, two successful City Council bids which NYCLASS supported with expenditures they claimed were not coordinated with the campaigns. But Ms. Cumbo and Ms. Levine each used the Advance Group, the same consultant employed by NYCLASS, to steer their campaigns.

In April, the CFB hit Ms. Cumbo and Mr. Levine’s campaigns with $7,868 and $8,686 in fines respectively for accepting improper campaign contributions from NYCLASS. Now, NYCLASS has been penalized and CFB said the Advance Group itself could face fines in the near future.

During the 2013 cycle, NYCLASS made more than $7,000 each in expenditures on behalf of the Cumbo and Levine campaigns. The CFB found the expenditures, purported to be independent, were not independent due to NYCLASS’ close relationship with the Advance Group. Misrepresenting this arrangement as independent brought NYCLASS, now pushing City Hall to ban the horse carriage industry, another $10,000 fine.

Yesterday, NYCLASS lashed out at the Advance Group for the fines, claiming NYCLASS was a “victim” of the Advance Group’s actions, a characterization the CFB rejected. A spokesman for the Advance Group said yesterday that NYCLASS “controlled every decision tactically, strategically and financially throughout the campaign.”

Randy Mastro, a lawyer for NYCLASS, again ripped the Advance Group in a statement today.

“Of course, parties ‘outsource’ legal compliance all the time. That’s what you hire lawyers and other professionals to do. But you still ultimately bear vicarious liability for the actions of your agents on your behalf,” he said.

NYCLASS dumped the Advance Group in May after a series of Daily News reports claimed the Advance Group and NYCLASS were facing a federal probe into whether they inappropriately coordinated with Bill de Blasio’s successful campaign for mayor. The Advance Group spearheaded NYCLASS’ independent expenditure against Christine Quinn after Ms. Quinn, then the council speaker, refused to move forward on a horse carriage ban. Sources close to the Advance Group and NYCLASS have said the stories are false and no investigation is ongoing.

“We have all seen the disturbing increase in spending by outside groups in federal, state and even local elections in recent years,” said Rose Gill Hearn, a CFB board member. “The Board expects to consider violations and penalties against The Advance Group, the common agent to the spender and the candidates who benefited from these expenditures.”

Updated with comment from Mr. Mastro