They’re chummy no more.
Battle lines were drawn in the historically friendly fight for the 39th Council District Tuesday when the two leading candidates -- Brad Lander and Josh Skaller -- began hammering each other on what they saw as egregious campaign violations.
The first assault was spearheaded by Skaller when he released a statement referring to a recent City Hall News article that claimed Data and Field Services, a private arm of the Working Families Party, was providing more services to Lander’s campaign, as well as several others that the Working Families Party endorsed, than they had paid for, which is illegal.
“Once again, we are disappointed to learn that a candidate has engaged in slush fund politics at the public’s expense -- this time it’s Brad Lander,” Skaller said. “Lander has allowed his Council campaign to be propped up by unethical and possibly illegal under-the-table funds, and the public might be awarding him taxpayer-generated matching funds regardless of this scandal.”
Lander denied the allegation and told reporters that he had paid Data and Field Services for consulting and voter canvassing work. He never received more support other than what he paid for and what was disclosed to the Campaign Finance Board (CFB), he said.
So far the CFB has not found any wrongdoing against Lander. Nor have they found any wrongdoing with Skaller’s campaign after Lander returned fire, claiming that his opponent has never paid rent on their office on Eighth Avenue near 12th Street.
“We have learned that the Skaller campaign is operating a campaign office without reporting the existence of the office or paying rent for it,” Lander said in a statement. “We are disappointed -- on behalf of taxpayers and the city’s landmark campaign finance system -- that Josh Skaller is yet again refusing to play by the rules.”
“Campaign offices traditionally account for a substantial percentage of a campaign’s expenditures, yet there is no disclosure of expenditure for office space, nor an in-kind donation on his campaign finance report,” he continued. “The failure to report the office is apparently an attempt to evade the Campaign Finance Board’s tight expenditure limits.”
Lander said that his campaign has requested a CFB audit of Skaller’s financial reporting. They had also asked that the CFB withhold public matching funds until Skaller “can account for the use of this office space and provide proper documentation.”
Chris Owens, campaign manager for the Skaller campaign, fired back, claiming that the basement office had no market value because it had no kitchen and could not be rented.
“The Skaller campaign has an agreement with the landlord to use a portion of their living space,” he said. “It is a written agreement effective as of last December. Everything has been thoroughly vetted and accounted for.”
“The Lander campaign is again engaging in the ultimate slash and mask politics,” Owens continued. “They’ve been caught violating the rules and they are engaging in distraction tactics.I’ve seen this many times before, and I know a lame bull when I see one.”
Owens did add that the CFB and the Skaller campaign are “in discussions as to whether or not the space should be treated as an in-kind contribution.” Lander ‘s people pounced on the statement claiming that these discussions “admits that [the campaign] had misled the Campaign Finance Board and the public in its filings and may have improperly accepted and failed to report the donation to its campaign of free office space.”
CFB spokesman Eric Friedman said that he could not comment on the hubbub over Skaller’s campaign office, although “no enforcable action” has been taken on the matter.
Regarding Skaller’s “discussions with the CFB,” Friedman said “It is a perfectly normal state of affairs for a candidate to come to us with a question to how to comply with the law.”
Both Lander and Skaller have been approved to receive the CFB’s maximum city matching fund contribution of $88,550. $84,122 was sent out to both camps at the beginning of August, Friedman said.