Citizens’ Group Files Complaint Against Mystery Club Connected to New York State Senator

After Sludge exposed an unregistered political group in New York City, government watchdog Reinvent Albany has filed a formal complaint against the group, the Northeast Brooklyn Democratic Club, which likely violated campaign finance laws.

Citizens’ Group Files Complaint Against Mystery Club Connected to New York State Senator
Outside the office at 58 Vermont St. in Brooklyn, NY.

In advance of last week’s New York state primary elections, a mysterious political group with the same address as state Sen. Martin Dilan’s campaign headquarters received tens of thousands of dollars from real estate interests and from the federal committee of Dilan’s son. But the group is virtually untraceable.

This group, the Northeast Brooklyn Democratic Club (NEBDC), has never registered with the state Board of Elections, something that good-government nonprofit Reinvent Albany says violates state campaign finance laws. Sludge first shed light on this curious club in a report last week.

Dilan has received criticism in recent years over campaign contributions from the real estate industry, and this under-the-radar arrangement could have allowed him to benefit from the industry’s largesse without the public knowing.

“We write to request you investigate the Northeast Brooklyn Democratic Club and State Senator Martin Dilan for apparent violations of New York State Election Law, as reported by the investigative journalist website Sludge and corroborated in large measure by public records,” reads the complaint sent on Sept. 14 by Reinvent Albany to Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel at the Division of Election Law Enforcement of the New York State Board of Elections.

On Sept. 13, Martin Dilan lost his state Senate seat to challenger Julia Salazar.
MTA/Patrick Chashin and Alex Purifoy/Salazar for State Senate

NEBDC has likely violated several campaign finance laws, Reinvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny and Senior Policy Advisor Alex Camarda argue. First, by receiving political contributions—reported only by donors—and failing to register with the elections board as a political group, NEBDC is in “an apparent violation of Election Law 14-118 which requires, among other things, that a political committee not receive, transfer, contribute or make any expenditure until it has: 1) registered with the State Board of Elections as a political committee; 2) chosen a treasurer; and 3) set up a bank account.

As an unregistered group, NEBDC reported nothing—neither incoming donations nor expenditures—to the state elections board, and while Sludge has no evidence that the group used any funds for elections-related activities, this scenario is highly likely, given the donations it accepted and the tough reelection that Dilan faced. (He lost by 17 percent to democratic socialist Julia Salazar, whose campaign platform focused on tenants’ rights.)

Reinvent Albany writes that NEBDC also appears to have violated Election Law sections 14-102, 14-108 and 14-110, which require periodic statements of campaign activity be filed with the Board of Elections,” as well as section 14-106—concerning “submissions of political communications to the general public”—and section 14-122: “accounting for and filing contributions and payments of a political committee by the treasurer or any agent of the committee.”

Also in question is whether NEBDC—if it was acting as an independent expenditure committee—illegally coordinated with Dilan’s campaign. Per Sludge’s previous report, NEBDC and the Dilan campaign share the same address (58 Vermont St. in Brooklyn). New York election law states that when “the candidate…shares or rents space for a campaign-related purpose with or from the independent expenditure committee,” it’s illegal coordination.

If NEBDC was acting as an independent expenditure committee and spent money to help Dilan’s campaign, “it is additionally required to register as such under Election Law 14-112(3), report contributions and expenditures (Election Law 14-1112(4)) and file a sworn verified statement by the club’s treasurer that Senator Dilan has not authorized the Club to aid or take part in his election (Election Law section 14-112),” according to Reinvent Albany.

Not addressed in the complaint is the apparent collaboration between NEBDC and the campaign of successful attorney general candidate Tish James. The James campaign’s official Facebook page created an event that listed NEBDC as one of the “staging locations” for its get-out-the-vote efforts from Sept.10-13. Dilan’s son, Erik Dilan, is listed as the contact person for the club. A call to the number listed for Erik Dilan, who has failed to disclose campaign donations in the past, was not answered.

Many other political clubs have evaded registration requirements in New York state. According to a 2013 study by Citizen Union and co-authored by Camarda, 224 political clubs didn’t register yet appeared to engage in campaign-related activities.

Dilan campaign spokesperson Bill Liff told Sludge he has nothing to do with NEBDC and did not refer Sludge to anyone connected to the club. Salazar’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read the full complaint here.