A state ethics panel investigating the activities of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political nonprofit announced Monday that it had reached settlements with two prominent donors to the organization, known as the Campaign for One New York.
The settlements are the first to come out of a lengthy investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which enforces state lobbying laws. The commission was looking into whether the nonprofit, now defunct, that Mr. de Blasio formed to back his prekindergarten initiative and other efforts lobbied the city in 2015 without registering to do so.
The investigation, which has stretched past two years, had been stalled, officials said, after it emerged that state and federal prosecutors were talking to many of the same organizations and donors as part of their inquiries into whether Mr. de Blasio solicited campaign contributions in exchange for official city actions. No charges were ever filed in those cases, and Mr. de Blasio has maintained he acted appropriately. He repeated that stance during in an interview Monday on NY1 in which he was asked about the settlements.
The panel reached its settlements in recent days with James F. Capalino, one of the top-earning lobbyists in New York City, and with New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, an animal rights organization known as Nyclass, whose 2013 campaign spending against Mr. de Blasio’s opponent, Christine C. Quinn, helped to propel his first successful mayoral run.
The panel has yet to rule on the central item in its investigation: whether the mayor’s nonprofit violated the lobbying law. “The commission’s investigation relating to donations to CONY is continuing,” the panel said in announcing the settlements.
Mr. Capalino agreed to pay a fine of $40,000 for making a $10,000 donation to the nonprofit and raising another $90,000 from his other lobbying clients at a time when he was a registered lobbyist. State rules bar lobbyists from giving gifts of more than $75 to elected leaders or to a charitable organization at the behest of the elected official.
In April 2015, “the mayor directly requested respondent Capalino’s support in advancing the city’s legislative and policy objectives,” the settlement says, and told him that Ross Offinger, treasurer of the nonprofit, “would provide further information on the details of that support.” Mr. Offinger followed up with a request for a donation and help raising more.
A few months later, in September, Mr. de Blasio held a breakfast with Mr. Capalino and his clients who contributed to the nonprofit, a gathering the lobbyist described to clients as a “kitchen cabinet.” The breakfast was not listed on Mr. de Blasio’s voluntary disclosure of lobbyist meetings. “When a lobbyist lobbies me on behalf of a client, I disclose it,” he said during the television interview. “If a lobbyist talks to me about politics or the Mets or something else, that’s not lobbying on behalf of a client.”
Mr. Capalino, in a statement, said he agreed to support the nonprofit when asked because of Mr. de Blasio’s work on income inequality, but allowed that he “should have been more sensitive to how my support might appear.” Mr. Capalino did not admit to any violation of the law and said he looked forward to “putting this behind us.”
In the Nyclass settlement, the group, which has campaigned for the removal of horse-drawn carriages from Central Park, was fined for failing to register as lobbyists. Its founders Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu both donated to the nonprofit as well, but their gifts were not part of the settlement. “We made a mistake in failing to file disclosure forms in the first half of 2014,” they said in a joint statement.
A spokesman for the nonprofit, which Mr. de Blasio shut in 2016, declined to comment. Mr. Offinger did not respond to a message seeking comment. Lawyers for Mr. de Blasio have accused the panel of a selective inquiry and one that has stretched far beyond its scope. At one point, they stopped cooperating with the inquiry.
David M. Grandeau, a former head of the lobby commission and a frequent critic of the panel, said that Jcope appeared to be selectively applying regulations that it developed on its own in 2014.
Walter J. McClure, a spokesman for the panel, disputed that. “We deal fairly and justly with entities and individuals who come under our jurisdiction,” he said.