Staten Island Borough President Favorite Fossella Flubs Candidate Ethics Test
Ex-Rep. Vito Fossella has been barred from collecting up to $325,000 in public matching dollars after failing to disclose his company’s business dealings with city and state. The Trump-backed candidate’s comeback campaign is running in the red.
Vito Fossella, the Republican nominee for Staten Island borough president, has yet to receive public matching funds for his debt-ridden campaign just weeks before the Nov. 2 election — after failing to disclose his business dealings with government agencies.
A review by THE CITY of Fossella’s campaign filings found that the former congressman does not have a required complete financial disclosure document on file by a city ethics panel, a prerequisite to receiving dollars from the city Campaign Finance Board.
Fossella’s reported campaign contributions for the June primary and upcoming general election could entitle him to as much as $325,000 in public dollars, based on $40,000 in eligible donations.
In all, Fossella’s comeback campaign has raised nearly $67,000 in private funds, records show, though his biggest boost — a robocall by former President Donald Trump just before his narrow June primary win — proved priceless. Meanwhile, Fossella’s been seeking support among anti-vaxxers by rallying against the city vaccine mandate.
A key to unlocking public campaign dollars is a financial reporting form required by the city Conflicts of Interest Board for all candidates. THE CITY obtained a copy of the form that was submitted by Fossella but not accepted by the board.
The document discloses his employment with a Staten Island debt collection firm called R.T.R. Financial Services, where Fossella works as senior vice president of client services. But Fossella left the answers to two related questions blank.
The first: “Was this employer or business licensed or regulated by any State or local government”?
Second question: “Did this employer or business have business dealings with...a State or local agency?
For Fossella, the answers are yes and yes.
Millions in Contracts
State records show R.T.R. Financial Services has $6.7 million in contracts to collect hospital debts on behalf of the State University of New York.
Meanwhile, R.T.R. holds a $3 million contract with the city Department of Finance to collect funds for unpaid parking tickets and other summonses. And the firm is licensed as a debt collection agency by the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
Without an accepted form, the Campaign Finance Board says, it can’t release a dime in public dollars, which for borough president candidates provide an $8 match for every $1 in donations of up to $175 by city residents.
“To qualify for small donor matching funds, New York City candidates must demonstrate that they are in full compliance with city law. Filing the candidate’s financial disclosure form with the Conflicts of Interest Board is one of those requirements,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.
One rival for the borough president job said Fossella’s failure to detail his government business dealings is an offense to voters.
“The city’s criteria is very detailed for a reason. We want to make sure there’s transparency in everything,” said Leticia Remauro, who’s running against Fossella on the Conservative line.
“People want to know where you’re making your money in your personal life and that’s exactly how it should be,” she added. “Government should be serving the people and the people should be able to get the information that they need, whether you’re in elected office or are seeking it.”
Fosella and David Catalfamo, a veteran GOP political strategist volunteering for Fossella’s campaign as a spokesperson, didn’t return requests for comment from THE CITY.
Back From Scandal
Fossella is a well-known figure on Staten Island, serving six terms in the House of Representatives. He skipped running for a seventh term 2008 after a DUI arrest in Virginia led to the revelation that he had a second family there.
THE CITY reported earlier this year that Fossella went on to work as a lobbyist and represented the governments of Taiwan, Somalia and Morocco as well as a Polish weapons manufacturer. He had a stint as a TV host at the Trump-friendly network Newsmax for a short lived show called “Table Talk.”
His COIB disclosure form also shows that in addition to his job promoting RTR’s debt collection services, he’s been running a consulting firm called Patriot Strategies Group.
He came back to public life last year in support of the owner of Mac’s Publick House, a Staten Island pub that publicly flouted COVID-19 guidelines, leading to the manager’s arrest.
Fossella rallied with parents and city Department of Education employees against the vaccine mandate and helped spur a lawsuit in response. The mandate takes effect Monday, following the case’s defeat in court.
The ex-congressman won the June GOP primary by 443 votes over Councilmember Steven Matteo, powered by a last-minute Trump robocall to voters.
Fossella’s filings with the Campaign Finance Board show minimal spending — and a growing pile of debt.
In the run-up to the primary, he disclosed just $113 in expenditures even as lawn signs promoting his candidacy and stamped “paid for by Fossella for BP” blanketed the borough.
Even now, his campaign has disclosed just $6,100 in expenditures — while racking up $65,000 in unpaid bills. His filings, as of the most recent Aug. 23 disclosure deadline, show his campaign is $6,394 in the red.
Fossella’s inability to tap matching funds has put him at a massive fundraising disadvantage against his two opponents. Mark Murphy, the Democratic nominee, has received $524,957 in public matching dollars, while Remauro notched $538,620.
The Campaign Finance Board is scheduled to announce its next round of public funds payments on Oct. 7.
Murphy had $269,105 on hand as of Aug. 23, while Remauro had just $27,587.
Murphy declined to take a swipe at Fossella’s financial woes. “I’m not concerned about what my opponents are doing,” said Murphy. “They’re big kids. If that’s the way they want to run a race that’s up to them.”
Question marks linger about unaccounted-for campaign promotions, which must be reported to the Campaign Finance Board even if they are not monetary donations.
Neither a billboard by the Outerbridge Crossing and a June 2 fundraiser at the restaurant Italianissimo has turned up among campaign expenses, unpaid bills or donated services disclosed to the Campaign Finance Board.
Staten Island is the only borough where Republican and unaffiliated voters outnumber Democrats.
Republicans have controlled Borough Hall since 1990 and borough presidents have used the office as a bully pulpit to command attention and action from City Hall.
The party’s nominee is taking liberties to get there, said one nonprofit government watchdog — who predicts Fossella will sooner or later feel the pain.
“New York City has some of the best campaign finance laws in the country, but sometimes candidates still don’t play by the rules,” said Tom Speaker, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Reinvent Albany. “Fortunately, the New York City Campaign Finance Board has a strong record of tracking compliance and penalizing candidates who flout the law.”