Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
Government watchdog groups are questioning why a political action committee run by the United Federation of Teachers gave money to a consulting firm that does not seem to exist, during a mayor's race in which the union aimed to play a kingmaker role.
According to a report on The Insider blog from Crain's New York Business, the union's P.A.C., called United for the Future, paid $370,000 to a consulting firm listed as "Strategic Consultants, Inc." But, apparently, there is no such group. Chris Bragg reports that Strategic Consultants has no corporate record and shares the same address as the political consulting firm The Advance Group.
Bragg writes that the filing gives the appearance that the U.F.T. attempted to skirt campaign finance rules.
The listing of the phony firm, "Strategic Consultants Inc.," in campaign filings, obscured that Advance Group was being paid both to promote candidates for the United Federation of Teachers' independent political action committee and working as the main campaign consultant for several of those same candidates. Super PACs have no spending limits but must not coordinate with individual campaigns.
The teachers union's payments raise new questions about potentially improper coordination the between outside spending efforts run by the Advance Group, and the firm's own clients.
The Advance Group did not respond to a request for comment. Michael Mulgrew, the union president, denied any wrongdoing.
"We happily comply with all Campaign Finance Board rules and regulations and we have written assurances from anyone who we were working with that they were complying with the same rules and regulations," he said.
You can hear his comments made to WNYC's Beth Fertig here.
Dick Dadey, executive director of the group Citizens Union, said the U.F.T.'s disclosure report to the city's Campaign Finance Board did not provide direct evidence of misconduct, but he said the vague filing was troubling.
“If there was nothing to hide, then why not be honest about who did the work?” he said.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, also issued a statement expressing concern.
"It appears from the expenditure report that the UFT took pains to conceal a coordinated effort with a paid consultant for several union backed candidates," said Lerner.
"This is a disturbing end run around the campaign finance laws designed to limit the influence of big dollar donors on the political process. The Campaign Finance Board should promptly investigate the UFT and the Advance Group, to quickly determine whether any violations of the independent expenditure regulations took place and hold the culpable entities accountable," she said.
While the New York City Campaign Finance Board has oversight over vendors, like the Advance Group, the Board's rules more directly govern campaigns and independent political action committees. Still, a CFB spokesman said the agency would follow up.