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Liu campaign finance practices questioned

TimesLedger Newspapers
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A series of alleged campaign finance irregularities has raised questions about City Comptroller John Liu, the former councilman from Flushing and a possible top-tier candidate to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013.

Last week The New York Times released a biting, front-page critique of Liu’s campaign finance practices since his election, forcing the city’s finance chief — who has not declared for the 2013 race — to respond by promising to audit his own campaign’s finances. But The Times and The New York Post are pushing the city Campaign Finance Board to conduct an independent audit in light of the seriousness of the allegations.

Liu’s office did not return several requests from the TimesLedger Newspapers on the Times story.

The Times said it visited the reported homes and workplaces of nearly 100 donors included on Liu’s campaign finance reports and found two dozen alleged discrepancies in the data, including people who say they never donated to his campaign or that their boss or another donor made a contribution on their behalf, according to the Oct. 11 Times story. Some could not be located by Times reporters at all.

The newspaper went on to contend that Liu, a Democrat, has broken city campaign finance law by failing to release names of bundlers who gathered contributions from individuals and not undertaking due diligence to avoid the use of “straw donors” by ensuring that one person fills out only one card. The Times reported that in numerous instances one person filled out Liu donor cards for a number of other people.

“I’m responsible for my campaign,” Liu told the Times. “To the extent that I think something has been done wrong, or people engaged in behavior that broke my rules, we’ll reverse anything.”

TimesLedger Newspapers made calls to all the available listed phone numbers for people with names and addresses correlating to the donors listed in the Times story as being involved in the irregularities, but in each case was either greeted by people who did not speak English, an answerer saying the person in question did not reside or work at the residence or business being contacted or a disconnected phone.

A number of the irregularities listed in the story involve people who were listed as having donated $800 to Liu’s campaign but later told the Times they never donated or that their boss donated on their behalf.

But some community members, such as Auburndale resident Adam Lombardi, who has worked on numerous Democratic campaigns, including Liu’s successful 2009 bid, have said they do not believe he would knowingly take illegal donations.

“I say this is a waste of time,” Lombardi said. “It would be nice to have a guy like this as mayor. Really, it’s true .... He’s a number cruncher that works on behalf of taxpayers — to make sure we get the most out of our buck.”

Liu had collected 2,265 individual donations totaling just over $1.5 million for his 2013 campaign as of Tuesday, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), the best-funded of the field of undeclared mayoral hopefuls and the one Bloomberg seems to want to succeed him, has brought in $4.5 million.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 4:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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