By Jonathan Lemire
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York City Campaign Finance Board on Aug. 5 denied public matching funds for Comptroller John Liu, dealing a severe financial blow to the Democrat’s campaign to become New York City’s first Asian-American mayor.
A defiant Liu said he was “disappointed” in the board’s decision but vowed to continue his mayoral bid.
“There is no question this weakens my campaign,” he said at a press conference hours after the board’s ruling. “I have taken body blow after body blow but there is not going to be a knockout here.”
The board said it had received “substantial evidence” of wrongdoings, including straw donors.
“The evidence suggests that the potential violations are serious and pervasive across the campaign’s fundraising,” the board said in a statement read at the hearing.
Liu has had to contend with the recent convictions of a former campaign worker and a former fundraiser on charges of scheming to circumvent donation limits. The candidate was never charged with any wrongdoing, but the case racked up enormous legal fees for his campaign. His team also believes the scandal has made other donors and political organizations wary of supporting Liu’s candidacy.
He said his campaign has complied with all requirements.
“I utterly dispute and repudiate those kinds of comments,” said Liu. “The strength of this campaign has never been in the money, it’s been in the people.”
His lawyer, Martin Connor, told the board before its unanimous decision that it’s no secret there were problems in his 2011 campaign. But “sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s smoke. No fire,” he said.
He said that accepting last week’s recommendation by board staff to deny public matching funds amounted to “the death penalty for a minor transgression.”
Connor said the appeals process could take a month and, even if the campaign is victorious, it would not have access to the matching funds until just days before the Sept. 10 primary, when it would likely be too late to use.
Liu had raised $3.4 million, less than most of his major Democratic rivals. But because he has the most number of small contributions, he was eligible to receive the most in matching funds, approximately $3.5 million. Candidates in the program agree to a spending cap. Liu currently has $1.5 million to spend, but can keep raising money.
Liu is currently placing fifth in most Democratic primary polls, trailing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, ex-comptroller Bill Thompson, and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.
About 150 chanting demonstrators, many pro-Liu, clogged the street outside the campaign finance headquarters before the morning hearing. Many held Liu campaign signs and wore orange Liu shirts.
“I think they are going after John Liu because he is a threat to the establishment,” said Maureen Pyne, a 74-year-old retired teacher who lives in Manhattan.
“Liu’s supporters’ money should count like anyone else’s. This is so unfair,” said Jack Zhang, 17, one of many Queens high school students who attended the protest.
His former campaign treasurer and a top fundraiser were convicted by a federal jury in May of using straw donors — people whose donations are reimbursed by others — to raise money and increase the number of contributions that would be matched by the city. (end)