By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal and state prosecutors said on Thursday they would not bring criminal charges against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or his aides in connection with two simultaneous year-long investigations into his fundraising practices.
The decisions could help dispel the dark cloud that has hung for months over the mayor, a first-term Democrat who is running for re-election this fall.
But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said while a criminal prosecution was not warranted, the mayor’s efforts to aid other Democratic candidates appeared to violate the “intent and spirit” of state campaign finance laws.
It is unusual for prosecutors to announce the conclusion of criminal inquiries. In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim of the Southern District in Manhattan said it was “appropriate in this case at this time, in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and mayoral election.”
During his weekly appearance on a local radio show, de Blasio said he appreciated that both prosecutors had completed a “thorough” effort and made their conclusions public.
“I’ve said consistently we acted appropriately, we acted ethically, we acted lawfully,” de Blasio said.
The results of the investigations had been pending for more than a year. U.S. prosecutors had probed whether the de Blasio administration gave favors to donors who contributed either to his campaign or to a nonprofit organization set up to promote his political agenda.
Vance’s office separately examined whether de Blasio steered campaign contributions to county committees in order to sidestep New York state campaign finance limits.
In a 10-page letter to the state Board of Elections, whose own inquiry led to his investigation, Vance said his office had interviewed more than 50 people and reviewed more than 1 million documents.
He detailed how de Blasio’s allies, seeking to help Democrats win a majority in the state Senate in 2014, encouraged wealthy donors to give to county committees rather than individual candidates because the limits are much higher for the committees.
The money then flowed from the committees to individual candidates, often within days. While each individual transaction appeared lawful, the overall effect was to evade campaign finance law, Vance said.
“The type of closely managed coordinated plan at issue creates an end run around the direct candidate contribution limits by taking advantage of inconsistent provisions in the Election Law,” he said.
Vance said the transfers were approved by an election law attorney working with the coordinated campaign. Under the law, an individual who acts on the advice of an attorney is typically shielded from prosecution, even if the conduct is found to be unlawful.
(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney, Jonathan Stempel, Jonathan Allen and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe)