City Comptroller John Liu of Flushing has promised to return any questionable money raised through his fundraising efforts after an in-depth story on his campaign finance reports was published Wednesday.
In a late-afternoon phone conversation on Wednesday, Liu told the Queens Chronicle that he has always made his rules clear and simple to campaign workers: “complete compliance with the Campaign Finance Board.”
The New York Times, however, researched campaign contributions made to Liu for a lengthy story. Alleged illegalities included business owners providing donations in the names of employees and persons filling out donor cards for multiple donors.
Calls to Ming Kun Lee, president of Dynasty Stainless Steel in Maspeth, were not returned. He was listed in the story as one of nine from the firm who contributed. The discrepancies included that all the donors’ cards were filled out in the same handwriting, some who were listed do not work for the company and some said they never gave at all.
Liu said although the donor cards may be filled out by the same person, “the personal checks and signatures on the cards are different and I have copies of their signed personal checks.”
The story also alleges that Liu’s campaign engaged in bundling, whereby individuals collected contributions from friends, relatives and others, but without Liu disclosing the bundlers’ names, which is required.
Liu said the names are being added now, and that “some issues raised in the story will be addressed.”
He indicated he was not surprised at the story “since the comptroller is under heavy scrutiny and that’s why we tried to dot all the I’s and cross the T’s” in campaign funding reports.
The comptroller, who announced recently that he had raised $1 million in the first six months of the year, is expected to run for mayor in 2013. He began his political career as the city councilman from Flushing in 2001 and was elected comptroller in 2009.
He told the Chronicle he would conduct an internal investigation and return any illegal contributions. That promise was also made by Chung Seto, Liu’s consultant and campaign manager when he ran for comptroller.
In an email to the Chronicle, Seto said the following: “The campaign has over 2,100 donors who are vetted and documented. We promptly furnished copies of signed personal checks and signed donor forms to the Times for the relatively small number of donors in question, who we will review in further detail. We do not want nor do we need any contributions that are inappropriate or noncompliant.”
Liu also indicated in the story that some of the donations were made by people new to the American political system who pretended ignorance to reporters because they didn’t want to discuss it.
A large photograph accompanied the Times story, showing Liu with unnamed Asian Americans at a Manhattan party in September. The Queens Chronicle identified Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corp., who was standing next to him.
Chen, who lives in Douglaston, previously worked in Flushing with the development firm TDC, served on Community Board 7 and is a CUNY trustee. Reached Wednesday by phone, Chen said he has never donated to any political campaign and merely was at a Fukinese association dinner in Chinatown earlier this year, when the photo was taken.
“I have nothing to do with Liu and he usually stays away from me because in the past he thought I would be a political rival, which is not true,” he said.
Referring to the story, Chen said Liu is an aggressive candidate and as such is likely to become a target for investigation. “You can always find holes in anyone’s campaign,” he added.
Tyler Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association, agrees. “There are probably improprieties in other campaigns,” Cassell said. “I’m surprised about it with Liu, but there is trouble in Flushing with the English language when filling out donor cards,” he added, referring to many Asian residents.
Cassell succeeded Liu as president of the civic when he became a councilman. Liu served as president of the group for eight or nine years, Cassell said, “and he was always a good president.”
One political activist from Queens who asked not to be named indicated that in an official investigation of such possible wrongdoing, it would be difficult to draw the line to Liu. “It’s a stretch because the work was probably done by campaign workers,” the person said.
But Queens Republican Party spokesman Robert Hornak had a harsher view. “It doesn’t give you a great deal of comfort that the New York City comptroller can’t keep his campaign books straight,” Hornak said. “How can we rely on him to watch the city’s finances?”