Saturday, February 7, 2009

Commissioner of Conflicts of Interest Rule Breaking

Articles courtesy of NY Daily News

Mayor Bloomberg's aides staff his foundation without city ethics check
Sunday, December 23rd 2007, 4:00 AM

Mayor Bloomberg's closest aide, Deputy Mayor Patti Harris, has been working for his charitable foundation without first getting clearance from city ethics watchdogs.

Harris, who earns $227,219 a year on the city payroll, took on an advisory role for the Bloomberg Family Foundation, which the mayor set up last year to give away his billions.

And she's not the only city employee doing side work with the foundation.

Her assistant, Allison Jaffin, has also spent time working on behalf of the charity without prior approval from the city Conflicts of Interest Board.

Their work is unpaid, and Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser called it a "minimal amount."

The city charter generally bans bosses and subordinates from entering into business relationships with each other or doing private work on city time unless the Conflicts of Interest Board agrees it is in New York's best interest.

As the mayor tries to figure out what his third career is going to be - politics, philanthropy, something else - the line between his public and private lives seems to be growing increasingly muddy.

He insisted this summer he had no involvement in his media company and then had to backtrack a few days later, admitting he talks to top execs frequently.

The close relationship was underscored when Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff recently announced he is stepping down to become second in command at Bloomberg LP.

The Bloomberg Family Foundation, which IRS filings show the mayor seeded with $500 million in September 2006, appears to be turning into another power destination for loyal Bloomberg aides.

The News has learned that Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden also has been volunteering with the foundation, including traveling to China in August to look at anti-smoking efforts there.

Unlike in Harris' case, Frieden's work was approved by the Conflicts of Interest Board. Bloomberg seemed to be aware of a potential clash with city rules in January, when he wrote to the board to ask for approval for Frieden's work.

The board agreed in March, as long as Frieden worked on his own time.

The Bloomberg letter said other commissioners and "high-level" employees were interested in volunteering for the foundation - not surprising considering the potential for a future job at a much better salary and without the constant public scrutiny.

Harris has been Bloomberg's trusted adviser, especially on philanthropy, for years. But she was not named in the letter, and the board granted a waiver only for Frieden.

After The News questioned mayoral staffers' involvement in the foundation, Loeser said the office assumed the Frieden decision covered other employees but would now ask the board for an opinion about Harris and Jaffin.

As for why City Hall is hunting for permission now - nine months after the Frieden waiver was granted - Loeser said it was because the foundation's work is "ramping up."

A year after it was announced, the foundation has a handful of employees, including its original hires, former Human Resources Commissioner Verna Eggleston and one-time Bloomberg LP executive Susan Calzone.

Frieden's ex-deputy at the Health Department, Dr. Kelly Henning, has been brought aboard to head up the anti-smoking programs.

The foundation has not yet given away any money, a spokesman said. A $125 million anti-tobacco effort announced by the mayor last year will come partly from the foundation and partly from the mayor's wallet.

Which begs the question: Is the foundation ramping up, or just waiting for its staff members to finish their time at City Hall?

Frieden's Bloomberg Foundation Work
February 6, 2009
Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, who is reportedly up for a job with the Obama administration, met with Mayor Bloomberg’s top pollster and another political consultant last year, according to records obtained by the DN's Kate Lucadamo.

The Health Department says both lunch meetings were part of Frieden's private work for the Bloomberg Family Foundation.

The commissioner's shedule reveals he had a morning sit-down with Stephan Rabimov of Global Political Risk Consulting in January 2008 and met pollster Doug Schoen for lunch in October.

An agency spokeswoman said Frieden interviewed Rabimov in his office for a job with the World Lung Foundation - a partner in the Global Tobacco Control Project, which Bloomberg’s foundation backs. Rabimov got the gig.

The Schoen powwow was “to discuss the global tobacco control effort,” Frieden’s spokeswoman said.

As the News reported last year, Frieden (unlike other members of the administration) sought and received a waiver from the Conflict of Interests Board to volunteer his time for the Bloomberg Family Foundation.

The Health commissioner and others on Team Bloomberg were planning to work for the private foundation when the mayor's term ended, but his successful push to change term limits and subsequent campaign for a third term may put the kibosh on that idea.

Now Frieden’s name is being circulated for the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where he once worked - much to the chagrin of AIDS activists, who disagree with his efforts to make HIV testing more routine. (Fixed).

That position appears to be in limbo since Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for U.S. Health Secretary this week because of tax trouble.

City Hall , Mayor Bloomberg
By Elizabeth Benjamin on February 6, 2009 2:32 PM

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