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Two NYC campaigns fined over cash from animal rights group

The city Campaign Finance Board fined two City Council members Wednesday for accepting prohibited donations from the animal rights group NYCLASS, or New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, which has led a campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) faces a $7,868 penalty for "accepting and failing to report an over-the-limit contribution from a prohibited source," and Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) was issued a $8,686 fine for the same violation.

NYCLASS donated to the lawmakers' 2013 campaigns, which were advised by political consultant firm The Advance Group.

But NYCLASS and The Advance Group were intertwined -- NYCLASS' political director doubled as The Advance Group's president, for example -- and spending by NYCLASS "could not be and" was "not independent" of the campaigns, the finance board said.

The contributions were over the $2,750 limit as nonindependent spending and weren't reported by the campaigns, the board said.

"The penalties levied today against the Cumbo and Levine City Council campaigns represent only the first step in this proceeding," board chair Rose Gill Hearn said in a statement. "The Board will consider violations and penalties for the other parties to these transactions."

NYCLASS said in a statement it "has complied with all applicable laws."

The Advance Group's attorney, Larry Mandelker, in a statement called the ruling a "clear case of guilt by association," adding, "The CFB has failed to offer one iota of evidence that coordination took place in this case."

Cumbo and Levine responded with a joint statement, saying their campaigns are opposed to outside spending in elections.

"We take our obligation to avoid coordinating with any outside group spending money on our races very seriously," they said. "Although we disagree with the conclusions the CFB reached in our cases, we support the CFB's efforts to monitor the accurate reporting of independent expenditures in general. Thus we have chosen to settle these allegations by repaying to the CFB the amount of NYCLASS's investment in our races."


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