A Staten Island grand jury’s indictment of a Park Slope councilman’s aide for alleged campaign finance fraud is an unfair subversion of the usual enforcement method for such shenanigans, good-government groups charge.
Rachel Goodman, chief of staff for Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), is expected to surrender to the authorities on Wednesday in Staten Island, where she is accused of submitting false statements to the city Campaign Finance Board and perjury stemming from work she did for the campaign of Councilwoman Deborah Rose (D–Staten Island). The move, which comes after two years of investigation by Roger Adler, a district-attorney-appointed special prosecutor, is a troubling bypass of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, according to Citizens Union, a good-government group. The organization’s head pointed out that Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan took no such steps in the case of the high-profile police killing of Gowanus native Eric Garner.
“It’s odd that Dan Donovan didn’t hire or retain a special prosecutor for the Eric Garner case but felt the need to retain one for alleged campaign finance violations that are normally handled by the Campaign Finance Board,” Citizens Union director Dick Dadey said. “The difference of scale between the two and the different responses is kind of mind-boggling.”
The national government watchdog group Common Cause echoed the sentiment.
“The New York City Campaign Finance Board has shown itself to be a fierce and capable watchdog of the city’s much-admired campaign finance system,” the group’s New York director Susan Lerner said in a statement released on Feb. 26, two days after the indictment came down. “We are troubled by the indictments issued yesterday which try to preempt the Campaign Finance Board’s thorough audit process, creating uncertainty and the possibility of disparate county-based standards for enforcement of the city’s campaign finance laws.”
Goodman is charged along with two others who prosecutors say lied to the finance board in filings about donations to Rose’s campaign. Specifically, she is accused of undervaluing work she did on behalf of the Rose campaign.
Goodman’s name was redacted from the original indictment, but the charges came to light in a March 5 New York Times column questioning the prosecution.
Lander dismissed the charges as baseless and called the prosecution “bullying.”
“I stand by Rachel Goodman 100 percent,” Lander said in a statement. “She is a dedicated, ethical, smart, hard-working public servant, who should not be subjected to this prosecutorial bullying. She will continue as my chief of staff, and she will be vindicated of all charges.”
In 2009 Goodman worked for Data and Field Services, a now-defunct affiliate of the union-backed Working Families Party set up to help campaigns. At the heart of the indictment are allegations that Data and Field Services provided discount services to the Rose campaign but failed to list the discount as a campaign contribution, as required by the state’s regulations.
Data and Field Services worked on nine campaigns that election, and Goodman worked on five of those, including those of Rose, Lander, and Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–East Flatbush), according to Lander. With the exception of the Rose campaign, the Campaign Finance Board has audited all of those campaigns and cleared them of any criminal violations. It did find Williams’s campaign failed to report various contributions, including a failure to document in-kind contributions, and fined him a total of $5,994 for it, which is how such paperwork omissions are typically dealt with. The failure to document in-kind contributions carried no fine.
The Campaign Finance Board paused its audit of the Rose campaign in 2012, when Staten Island District Attorney and current Republican congressional candidate Dan Donovan recused himself and a judge appointed Adler. The special prosecutor knows a thing or two about campaign finance law, having represented former Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman when he faced charges of extortion, soliciting illegal campaign contributions, and stealing from his reelection committee. Norman was convicted in 2007 and served less than two years of a three-to-nine-year sentence.
Lander blasted the appointment of Adler and blamed Donovan for it, saying it circumvented the normal process and handed the case to a Democratic-machine operative with an ax to grind against the insurgent Working Families Party.
“I remain disappointed that Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan sought a special prosecutor to begin with,” Lander said in a statement. “Instead, the special prosecutor who was appointed has trumped up a wild and unsupported conspiracy theory, for his own purposes. Roger Adler has the right to hold a grudge against the Working Families Party. But it is shameful for him to indict innocent individuals.”
Activists and commentators called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation of the death of Eric Garner, who objected to being stopped by officers, supposedly on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. Donovan and Gov. Cuomo did not heed the demand, and a grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked Garner to the ground, sparked months of protests.
A spokesman for Donovan declined to comment on why Donovan opened the Rose investigation and appointed Adler.
Goodman declined to comment through Lander.