Five individuals connected to contentious development projects in state Sen. Jose Peralta’s (D-East Elmhurst) district have donated to his borough president campaign, though his disclosures with the city’s Campaign Finance Board do not reveal the connection.
All told, two executive-level officials from the New York Mets and three from Major League Soccer contributed this month a total of $1,780 to Peralta’s campaign. They are listed by name but their employer and titles are not disclosed — as required by the CFB.
Peralta’s campaign chalked up the missing information to a clerical error brought on by a tight Jan. 15 deadline. All five donations were made on Jan. 11, a day before the disclosure period ended.
“Our main concern was obviously getting the reports filed at the deadline,” said John Castellano, Peralta’s campaign coordinator. “It is a continuing process. We’re planning to get the information down as soon as possible.” He added the updated filings will reflect all missing employer information.
The donations come at a time when Queens residents and elected officials are considering the creation of a $350 million, 25,000-seat MLS stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as well as a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall next to Citi Field to be built by the Mets’ parent company Sterling Equities.
The January donors with missing employment information include Sterling Equities president Saul Katz and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Peralta’s support is integral in the fruition of the mall and stadium; both proposals fall within the bounds of his district. Also, he will face a vote in the state Senate to approve replacement parkland for the 10 to 13 acres MLS plans to alienate with its stadium, if it passes the city council first.
Castellano asserted the donations by the Mets and MLS will not influence Peralta’s stance regarding either project.
“His campaign for Queens borough president is not going to affect the way he legislates as a state senator,” he said. “While he is running, his responsibility right now is to the 13th District. That’s his primary responsibility.”
Peralta has expressed his support for the MLS project on the condition that suitable and appropriate parkland is found. He even penned a column lauding the project’s benefits for another Queens weekly newspaper.
Four of the five contributions max out within the $320 limit required for donors categorized as “doing business with the city.” The designation caps contributions from individuals with a monetary interest in the outcome of decisions made by city officials, and are not subject to public matching funds, which will be doled out in August when ballots are set.
“The purpose is to reduce the potential for, and appearance of, corruption,” according to the CFB’s website. “Another term for ‘doing business’ contributions is ‘pay-to-play,’ which suggests that those wanting to do business with the city could use, or could appear to be using, campaign contributions to get city business.”
Had the Sterling Equities and MLS donors’ “employer” fields been filled in, it would have read:
• Saul Katz, Sterling Mets, Owner
• Richard Wilpon, Sterling Equities, Principal
• Mark Abbott, Major League Soccer, President
• Donald Garber, Major League Soccer, Commissioner
• Brett Lashbrook, Major League Soccer, lobbyist
Katz does not fall into the “doing business with the city” category, according to a city database which tracks business interests negotiating, or already in agreement, with the city. He donated $500. The total donated by all five represents a small fraction of the $71,991 Peralta has on hand for his campaign.
Candidates are required to disclose the employer of nearly all individuals, with exceptions for the self-employed and retired, among others.
If properly amended, the missing employment information will not cost Peralta in penalties, which would be levied after the campaign is over.
“Campaigns are required to disclose full information about the groups and individuals who support them,” said CFB spokesman Matthew Sollars in a statement. “This ensures voters can make an informed decision at the polls. The CFB reviews disclosures filed by each campaign and campaigns are given an opportunity to fix any problems before the election.”