The Kessel NYPA Watch, June 21, 2009 – By George J. Marlin
Notes and Asides
Did Richie Kessel Violate State Law and NIFA’s Code of Ethics by Making Local Campaign Contributions?
Sections 73 and 74 of State Public Officers Law as well as the Code of Ethics of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority require minimum standards of conduct by appointed public officers, such as Richie Kessel. The law proscribes the actions of public officers to avoid actual and perceived conflicts of interest. Richie’s NYPA resume boasts that he served as Chairman for a number of years and a Board Member of NIFA from 2000 until his resignation from NIFA on December 31, 2007. Over that period, Kessel was responsible for the State agency that was charged with overseeing Nassau County’s budgets, taxes, finances, borrowing and financial plans. So, one would expect that Richie would avoid political entanglements in the County during service on the NIFA Board. In fact, contrary to sound practice, good public policy and perhaps State law and NIFA’s Code of Ethics—that he himself voted to approve—Kessel made multiple political contributions during his NIFA service to Democratic members of the County Legislature, the very body charged with approving the County budget that NIFA would annually review, critique and possibly reject.
The facts are these: Kessel made eight separate contributions to six Democratic members of the majority party in Nassau County Legislature while serving on the NIFA Board, in each case in the months leading up to the election of the County Legislature. Legislators Roger Corbin, David Denenberg (one contribution while Richie was at NIFA and another weeks later), Judy Jacobs, former Presiding Officer (three contributions). Joe Scannell, Wayne Wink and Diane Yaturo (the current Presiding Officer) were also beneficiaries of Richie’s political largesse. Inappropriate and unseemly? Definitely. Illegal? Street Corner Conservative will leave that determination to the appropriate authorities. Violative of NIFA’s Code of Ethics? Street Corner Conservative’s read of the Code suggests that there is a real question as to whether Kessel’s multiple political contributions directed solely to majority members of the County Legislature in an election year was permissible under the NIFA Code.
But these questionable political contributions raise many questions: Did Kessel exert pressure on these Legislators? Did the past Chairman of NIFA and LIPA extract any concessions with respect to NIFA business and perhaps other matters, public or private? What message did Kessel’s contributions, including to the current and past Presiding Officer of the Legislature, send to other Democratic members of the Legislature who were not similarly funded by Richie? What message did Kessel intend to send to minority members of the Legislature? Ultimately, was the County’s relationship with NIFA on budgetary and the County’s sky-high taxes affected by these contributions? These questions demand investigation.
NOTE TO READERS: Starting this week, The Kessel NYPA Watch will be on a fortnightly summer schedule.