By Anna Sanders,
Wannabe mayor and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is skirting campaign rules by raising tens of thousands of dollars from donors with business before the city for his nonprofit, the Daily News has found. Adams set up the “One Brooklyn Fund” his first year in office in 2014, raising at least $995,000 and as much $2.9 million by March 2018, according to filings with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.
The nonprofit — which is officially linked to the borough president’s office — lets wealthy donors curry favor with Adams without running afoul of rules barring city candidates from raising money from corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships.
The One Brooklyn Fund also lets Adams supporters to bypass city laws that exclude those corporations but allows lower contribution limits for certain people with city business.
Candidates for borough president can’t raise more than $320 from individuals in the city’s “doing business” database — and mayoral contenders can’t take more than $400 from them.
Records show at least $85,000 and as much as $340,000 raised by One Brooklyn has come from 11 entities in the database. One Brooklyn Fund has also raised at least $325,000 and as much as $1 million from entities who’ve recently lobbied the city, records show.
And the nonprofit’s benefactors are also giving to the borough president’s 2021 campaign, even though Adams hasn’t officially declared his candidacy for mayor.
Of the $2.19 million his campaign’s raised since January 2018, at least $46,620 came from people tied to entities that have also given to One Brooklyn Fund over the years. One Brooklyn Fund director Edolphus Towns, a former congressman, even bundled $6,940 for Adams’ campaign.
Ethics watchdogs say the arrangement is ripe for conflicts. “It can be an end run around the city’s contribution limits,” said Alex Camarda, a senior policy adviser for good government group Reinvent Albany. “If the same entities can make contributions to a nonprofit affiliated with an elected official then the corruption risk is sky-high.”
The borough president’s office defended the arrangement.
“100% of the money raised by the One Brooklyn Fund goes toward improving the lives of the people of Brooklyn,” Adams spokesman Jonah Allon said. “The Fund follows all applicable rules and regulations and makes its financial data publicly available.”
The Walentas family, which runs the powerful real estate development firm Two Trees Management, has showered both Adams and One Brooklyn with cash. The Walentas Foundation gave One Brooklyn between $45,000 and $140,000 from April 2015 to September 2017, disclosures show. David Walentas and his wife Jane also gave the Adams campaign a combined $5,500 last year. Jed Walentas, CEO of Two Trees, gave Adams $400 and bundled another $5,100 in donations.
Both Jed and David Walentas are in the doing business database, so they only donated $400 apiece while David’s wife Jane is not an officer in the company and gave the max of $5,100.
Two Trees has lobbied Adams over various land use projects in Brooklyn for years and is seeking authorization to modify requirements as part of the firm’s massive redevelopment at the Domino Sugar Factory site. Other Two Trees employees have given $7,000 to the Adams campaign.
Broadway Stages, a production firm that was questioned as part of a probe into Mayor de Blasio’s fundraising, has gifted One Brooklyn Fund at least $125,000 and as much as $330,000, including an in-kind donation. The president, CEO and others at Broadway Stages have given Adams’ campaign $12,175, too. Broadway Stages is lobbying the city on legislation and zoning.
The home-sharing site AirBnB — which Adams has vocally supported — gave One Brooklyn between $20,000 and $59,999.
And Abrams Fensterman, a politically-connected law firm, gave One Brookyn between $5,000 and $19,999. Firm employees also gave Adams’ campaign $11,200 – including a maximum donation of $5,100 from partner Frank Carone, who isn’t on the list of people doing business with the city. He’s the chief attorney of the Brooklyn Democratic party and the lawyer who repped two shady landlords in a real estate deal that cost the city $173 million.
One Brooklyn is among of dozens of nonprofits affiliated with city agencies like the borough president’s office. They must only disclose donations over $5,000 with the Conflicts of Interest Board, and contributions are listed in ranges in the bi-annual filings. They can’t spend more than 10% of their expenditures on elected official communications.
Adams’ office said 5.5% of One Brooklyn’s spending went toward such communications in 2018.
The City Council passed legislation last month rolling back a 2016 law that would have increased transparency of the donations raised by these nonprofits by requiring disclosure of gifts over $1,000, not $5,000. The revamped law, which is on the mayor’s desk, would also now allow nonprofits like One Brooklyn that spend less than 10% of their funds promoting an elected official to keep donors anonymous.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the good-government group “has long maintained that these kind of entities undermine the spirit of the city’s campaign finance laws.”
“As Borough President Adams progresses with his campaign for Mayor, there’s a real opportunity to show leadership by not repeating the mistakes of the past,” Lerner said.
Adams’ predecessor, former Borough President Marty Markowitz, also used city-affiliated nonprofits to raise millions – setting up five by the time he left office.
Mayor de Blasio faced multiple investigations into his fundraising practices, including whether his administration was favorable to donors and others with business before the city who gave to his political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.
Unlike de Blasio’s nonprofit — which explicitly promoted his agenda — One Brooklyn sponsors events for the public and promotes tourism in the borough. But it also elevates Adams — with photos of the BP splashed across its website. Adams issues official press releases when One Brooklyn pays for events and programs.
A link to One Brooklyn’s webpage is at the top of the borough president’s official site — and a glowing Adams is pictured next to instructions on how to donate to the fund. The organization’s mission is to “promote the culture of ‘one Brooklyn’ by celebrating the diversity of the borough,” according to tax filings.