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NYC Mayoral Donor Could Face SEC Investigation

New York mayoral candidate Bill Thompson faces scrutiny after a New York Times story about pension contracts awarded to donors during his tenure as City Comptroller.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

New York mayoral candidate Bill Thompson faces scrutiny after a New York Times story about pension contracts awarded to donors during his tenure as City Comptroller.

Saturday’s front page  story on New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson could mean trouble with the SEC for one of his former donors who did business with the city.

A report by David Halbfinger detailed how during Thompson’s eight-year tenure as city comptroller, large city pension deals were awarded to financial firms whose executives donated to Thompson’s campaigns. Under Securities and Exchange Commission rules created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform in 2010, such pay-to-play donations would be illegal. But Thompson’s term of office ended in 2009 so the rule did not affect these donors.

But the Times‘ report raises a question about Thompson’s current campaign.

Thompson’s defense against the pay-to-play allegation is that he was not the only one who decided who got city pension fund business. Appearing on Saturday’s Up with Steve Kornacki, Thompson said, “The mayor chairs the boards of all the pension funds. It isn’t just me making recommendations.”

Thompson’s point—that the mayor chairs the board of all the pension funds—highlights a possible violation of federal pay-to-play laws affecting one longtime supporter.

Tracy Maitland, a former Thompson fundraiser named in the article, is CEO of the financial firm Advent Capital, which was doing $324 million in business with New York City, according to Times.

Maitland is involved in the 2013 campaign. “Friends say Mr. Maitland made calls seeking support for Mr. Thompson’s current mayoral bid,” Saturday’s report said, “but Mr. Maitland played down any role.”

Halbfinger confirmed to Up with Steve Kornacki on Saturday that the “support” Maitland was allegedly seeking was financial.

The SEC regulations that prevent executives from donating to candidates and elected officials with control over pension funds, also prohibit these executives from even soliciting contributions for a candidate.

If the SEC investigated and confirmed that Maitland indeed solicited donations to Thompson’s campaign, he could be fined.

“There is a landmine of rules that have to be navigated between federal and local law,” said Skadden Arps campaign finance lawyer Ken Gross. The weight of the law falls on the pension advisor, not the candidate, so Thompson could not be accused of any wrongdoing and would face no penalties.