Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More on the Pensiongate Scandal and Pay-to-Play Politics

Recently I focused on one key aspect of the Pensiongate scandal, namely Blue Wolf Capital Management, whose founder, Josh Wolf-Powers, is at the center of Pensiongate. Josh Wolf-Powers, a former aide to Comptroller Bill Thompson, is the guy who advised Steven Rattner’s company, the Quadrangle Group, to hire the now-indicted Hank Morris as its placement agent. And Josh Wolf Powers was the focus of a discussion here on Daily Gotham because they were a major donor to City Council Candidate Brad Lander, and a Lander supporter was defending Blue Wolf Capital Management. I should also note that from what I can tell more was donated by Josh Wolf-Powers and his wife to Brad Lander than any other politician listed under their names. As far as I know Brad has not returned this money that comes from someone so closely connected with a major scandal.

Over at True News for ChangeNYC there are more headlines on the Pensiongate scandal, this time focusing on another focal figure in the scandal: Steve Rattner. This is the guy who was convinced by Josh Wolf-Powers to "hire" Hank Morris (I don't know if you can call it "hire" when he basically did nothing except take the money). Bloomberg is defending Rattner, who also has managed Bloomberg's personal finances (another odd mixing of government and private interests, I will add). The question of course is was Rattner merely duped by Josh Wolf-Powers (and this perhaps not the most astute of people) or was he knowingly involved in this pay-to-play exchange of favors? I should note that a Newsweek article on Rattner (also listed on True News for ChangeNYC's roundup)sure doesn't make it sound like Rattner us a somewhat naive person who is easily duped. So did he go along with Wolf-Powers knowingly or is he less astute than people are giving him credit for? I don't know. But it isn't a moot point since this guy is now Obama's car Tsar, is a close associate of NYC mayor Bloomberg, and his family is a major donor to politicians all over the place. For example, Rattner's brother donated a rather large amount ($4,950) to David Yassky's campaign for Comptroller. Yassky is well known for pay-to-play favors like his trying to get the city to give money to BUILD right after BUILD's president endorsed him, or giving $15,000 of discretionary money to Steve DiBrienza's fake PAC right after Steve DiBrienza endorsed him. So does the Rattner donation come with strings attached? Seems like bagging a Comptroller would be well worthwhile to someone so close to a major scandal. And for the record, funnelling donationes through relatives is a common way for big money interests to participate in pay-to-play. For example, Assemblyman and Party Boss Vito Lopez proposed a major sweetheart deal for developer Bruce Ratner (different Ratner rat than Rattner) right after receiving some big donations from Ratner's relatives.

As an aside I should note that David Yassky also has donated $500 to corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez, thus basically destroying any reform credentials Yassky ever had and hopefully destroying any chance Brooklyn's reform clubs will endorse him. But to be fair, Yassky's opponent David Weprin has also given $500 to corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez...TWICE. From what I can tell neither of the other two candidates for comptroller, John Liu and developer favorite Melinda Katz, have donated to Vito.

Now Josh Wolf-Powers seems corrupt as hell. It is less clear that Steve Rattner is. But this scandal really illustrates what is wrong with NYC (and beyond) politics and why we need major reforms. It also shows that we need to pay attention to where a candidate's money comes from, because people like Josh Wolf-Powers and Steve Rattner and Hank Morris expcet big favors in return for big bucks. And all too often these favors are blatantly obvious, as in the case of Yassky and BUILD, or Yassky and Ratner, or Katz and developers, or Public Advocate candidate Bill deBlasio's shilling for billboard companies right before receiving $8000 in donations from billboard companies.

And speaking of Bill diBlasio, rumor has it that Party Boss Vito Lopez is backing him. And if money influences politicians like deBlasio, one has to ask why someone from New Jersey gave over $25,000 to deBlasio's campaign or why a local Hasid gave $10,000 to his campaign. These amounts stand out as being an order of magnitude higher than the average donation to a candidate. Who are these people and what, if anything, do they expect in return for their large investment?