WFP on trial – New York Post

‘Enough already,” Jus tice Anthony Giacobbe sternly said yesterday at the Richmond County Supreme Court on Staten Island. He was admonishing attorneys representing the Working Families Party and its for-profit corporate arm, Data Field Services, for suddenly disclosing hundreds of pages of documents that they should have supplied long ago.

The trial is attracting standing-room-only audiences because it centers on allegations of collusion and possible corruption that have long dogged New York’s fastest growing political organization, the WFP.

At issue in the courtroom are alleged WFP efforts to end-run campaign-finance laws to boost City Councilwoman Debi Rose. Outside the court, everyone’s wondering about the WFP’s efforts in scores of other races.

“This is not about right and left,” says Randy Mastro, the petitioners’ attorney. “This is about right and wrong.”

And Justice Giacobbe is already angry with the defense’s tactics. Even before the surprise document dump, his patience had been tried by the prior day’s testimony from Rose’s campaign treasurer, David Thomas — who now says he neither wrote nor even read closely at least two affadavits he signed and sent to the city Campaign Finance Board.

Formed a dozen years ago by local labor unions and the now-infamous community-organizing group ACORN, the WFP has emerged as the key power broker and ground-game organizer in local liberal politics — thanks to its remarkable rate of success in backing leftist candidates in Democratic primaries. Its support was key to November’s wins by Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio and Comptroller John Liu, along with four of the five City Council members who defeated incumbents in last September’s primary.

Extreme ideological advocacy is perfectly legal, of course — but allegations of unethical behavior accelerated after the WFP formed its for-profit company, Data and Field Services, in 2007.

The two entities are sup posed to be legally separate to comply with election and campaign-finance laws. But they share office space on the third floor of a Brooklyn building that also serves as headquarters for ACORN. And now the Staten Island trial may be exposing even that flimsy separation as a fiction — an attempt to end-run New York law.

The trial’s now on hold for several weeks for the defendants to produce more documents. (Giacobbe announced that the WFP & Co. would face sanctions if they fail to comply.) But the evidence so far already suggests that DFS doesn’t take its for-profit identity too seriously.

We know now, for example, that it sold detailed voter-data lists developed from the Voter Activation Network — which resulted in an unheard-of 81 percent response rate — for a few hundred bucks when the open-market value would be in the thousands. It also supplied Rose with a campaign manager (whose online nom de guerre was Laborista) — taking more than a thousand dollar loss on the deal — along with several campaign staffers who also worked for free for more than a month.

DFS even kept Debi Rose on as a client after her previous unsuccessful campaign stiffed it for $5,000.

None of this makes any sense for a business. But, since DFS’ only clients are candidates endorsed by the WFP, it’s pretty clear that DFS isn’t a business in any free-market sense.

(Ironically, it also falls short of its stated social- democrat aspirations: Judging by the amounts charged to the Debi Rose campaign, it fails to pay many of its employees what the WFP in other contexts would insist is the minimum “living wage.”)

So DFS looks like what critics have charged — a front to allow the WFP to exceed legal limits on donations to candidates. But the trial’s exposed other weirdness, too.

The Rose camp filed affadavit assurances that “the campaign is aware of no activity by the WFP on its behalf.” Yet an extensive e-mail trail shows “kitchen cabinet for Debi Rose” meetings by WFP staff coordinating communications, endorsements and canvassing more than a month before any relevant contracts were signed.

It also appears that the Rose campaign illegally used more than $25,000 in taxpayer funds designated for the general election to pay primary expenses. The only explanation provided so far by Thomas is incompetence: “The way our campaign was run,” he said, “there was a lot of dysfunction.”

Dysfunction or dishonesty? That’s the real question.

With most elections in the city determined in closed partisan primaries, the WFP endorsement — and the help it brings — has become critical for any winning campaign. This has shifted the Democratic Party and the entire local elected government significantly to the left.

More important, the “left” here means a party established by public-sector unions and a community group that depends on taxpayer funds — a profile that takes on more sinister connotations at a time when our city and state face deep budget deficits.

This is just a civil trial, but the criminal complaints may follow: The US Attorney’s office has issued subpoenas for Data Field Services and the WFP, but has yet to unveil any charges. The ultimate penalties could end up totaling millions in refunds and restitutions.

Bottom line: The drama that unfolded in Staten Island’s Supreme Court this week is just the thin edge of the wedge in the larger fight against the growing influence of taxpayer-subsidized special interests in the Empire State.

John P. Avlon is senior politi cal columnist for The Daily Beast. His next book is “Wing nuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.”

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