Three candidates in the race to replace term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson have traded allegations of campaign improprieties to the Campaign Finance Board, burdening their opponents with additional paperwork and spurring them to cry foul.
Five complaints have been made targeting three different candidates. Four of them appear to have come from just one campaign – Igor Oberman’s – and were dismissed. The Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is responsible for overseeing the city’s public campaign finance system, documenting donations and expenditures, and investigating complaints of misused public funds.
The issue most recently came to light in a Daily News report about a so-called “probe” into an alleged “scheme” by Igor Oberman, which they described as “under investigation.” According to the paper, the Board was looking into a complaint made by Ari Kagan’s campaign that Oberman, board president of Trump Village 4, was soliciting campaign donations from seven companies with active contracts at the housing development.
However, the newspaper appears to have trumped up the charges.
According to Kagan, his complaint arose from his concern that Oberman was misusing the co-op’s money to promote his candidacy. In July, using funds from the co-op, Oberman sent mailers to district residents promoting a Family Day event at the co-op, co-sponsored by the Kings Bay Y. The flier had a photo of Oberman and his family.
“[My complaint] is about co-op money. I believe co-op money should be used for improving security, improving elevators, not for promoting candidates,” Kagan told Sheepshead Bites. “I personally received three mailings about him and his family. And none of them were paid by for his campaign, but all were sent to prime Democratic voters.”
Kagan claims Oberman has similarly used co-op money for a variety of advertising, including three large “billboards” around Trump Village. The ads purport to promote the co-op’s amenities and available units, but heavily feature Oberman’s name and face, Kagan said.
If the co-op board’s advertising is found to have intentionally aided Oberman’s campaign, the CFB could fine the campaign tens of thousands of dollars.
Kagan stressed that his complaint did not mention the contractors’ donations. The CFB cannot comment on complaints until a judgement has been made, including confirming or denying whether a complaint exists.
Additionally, if Oberman had solicited contributions from his the co-ops vendors, it may be within the law. Candidates may legally accept contributions from personal or professional contacts so long as no promises or favors are granted, although the ethical implications are up to voters and co-op residents to decide.
“Campaigns may accept contributions from individuals up to the contribution limit for each office. The CFB’s audits of every campaign help ensure that campaigns are complying with the law,” said Matthew Sollars, spokesperson for the CFB.
Kagan’s complaint against Oberman, though, isn’t the first complaint hailing from the 48th District this year. According to Sollars, Kagan has been the subject of three complaints, and Theresa Scavo received another.
Kagan said all of the complaints filed by Oberman were intentionally frivolous, and show an attempt to tie up his opponents with paperwork since the CFB is required to consider all complaints.
“[His latest] complaint was about me not being a journalist. He wrote that I never worked as a journalist on TV or radio before the campaign, Kagan said. “Can you imagine? So of course it was dismissed.”
In fact, all of the complaints against
Oberman Kagan and Scavo were unanimously dismissed by the Board. The CFB has not acknowledged the complaint against Oberman, suggesting that it remains under review. (Corrected – see below)
“He filed three complaints against me, all three were dismissed,” Kagan said. “And Theresa Scavo complained to me that he filed complaints against her. I understand hes a lawyer, but why?”
Kagan said he believes Oberman is trying to tie up his campaign with paperwork, rather than allow him to get the word out.
Scavo, in an interview with Sheepshead Bites in July, echoed the same frustration, although she did not identify the source of the complaints at the time.
“This is what they’re doing to me to keep me distracted and busy. All you must do is lodge complaints, and CFB has to investigate,” Scavo said at the time. “It’s a delay tactic, wasting my time while I’m defending myself with all this garbage.”
But Oberman said he’s just trying to keep his opponents honest.
“My opponents were not properly reporting their campaign expenses. Due to my diligence and knowledge of the rules, they were forced to comply with the law. As a Judge, I take campaign finance laws very seriously and am not afraid to speak up when I see wrongdoing,” said Oberman. “I apologize if Ari and Theresa needed to take an extra 10 minutes in order to run transparent campaigns.”
Oberman declined to comment on the allegations made against him, or why promotional materials for the co-op heavily featured his name and image.
Sheepshead Bites submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Campaign Finance Board nearly two weeks ago to provide documents detailing the complaints made and by which campaign. The documents were not produced by the time of this report.
Scavo, Oberman and Kagan will face off tomorrow, September 10, in the Democratic primaries, alongside Chaim Deutsch and Natraj Bhushan. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Find your poll site here.
Correction (3:23 p.m.): A previous version of this post erroneously stated that “all of the complaints against Oberman and Scavo were unanimously dismissed.” In fact, we meant Kagan and Scavo. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.