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Eric Adams’ Transition Fined Nearly $20K by Campaign Finance Board

Prohibited donations from business associates and dozens of missing refund check copies spurred scrutiny of the mayor’s inauguration.

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Then Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams campaigns for mayor at Cadman Plaza, May 11, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The city’s Campaign Finance Board on Monday hit Mayor Eric Adams’ transition account team with nearly $20,000 in penalties for violations related to the weeks in between 2021’s election and his January 2022 swearing in. 

The five-member board voted to approve $19,600 in fines for three violations, finding that the account for Adams transition and inauguration committee accepted prohibited donations, failed to respond or responded late to requests for information or documentation, and failed to properly wind down “transition and inauguration expense” activities.

The newest member of the board, Dawn Smalls, who was appointed by Adams in March, abstained from voting, CFB spokesperson Tim Hunter told THE CITY.

The penalties issued Monday were less than half of the $50,000 originally recommended by the board’s counsel in an Aug. 15 penalty notice sent to Adams’ campaign team — and only released through a Freedom of Information request to THE CITY.  

The reductions came after Adams’ team provided more documentation and other information, according to the CFB. 

The fines levied Monday include $5,000 for accepting prohibited donations from five people listed on the city’s “doing business database” when they donated. Campaign finance laws restrict how much a person can donate to an elected official if they have contracts or other work with city government, as a protection against bribery and political manipulation. 

The CFB also issued $14,400 in fines for responding late or not at all to requests for information and documentation related to donations and spending by Adams’ inauguration team. The Campaign Finance Board requested this information starting last May, with follow-up letters sent on June 22 and July 19, according to officials.

Adams’s team eventually submitted some required documents on Oct. 3, 2022. But the transition did not respond to a request for copies of 57 refund checks to donors, totaling more than $239,000, or to answer questions related to the account’s bank statements. 

Finally, the account was also fined $200 for not properly winding down its activities by an April 30, 2022, deadline. 

‘Essentially Just Late Fees’

In response to questions about the violations, Adams mayoral campaign spokesperson Evan Thies pointed to the hundreds of legal donations they received — and noted a $48,000 fine for the campaign of former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016. 

“Out of more than $2 million raised from nearly a thousand New Yorkers, a handful of contributions were flagged, which the inauguration committee returned,” Thies said in a statement. “The campaign also returned more than $800,000 it raised that it did not need to spend. These fines are essentially just late fees for responding appropriately to the Campaign Finance Board.” 

A lawyer listed for the Adams account, Ardian Tagani of Pitta LLP, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A penalty notice sent to the transition team last summer provided more details on what information the Campaign Finance Board was missing. 

At the time, Adams’ campaign treasurer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and other officials from the mayor’s transition had not sent along necessary documentation on how some people were donating money, and on how the campaign was spending it, that memo says. 

The CFB had also originally identified donations from 18 people on the “doing business database” and found the team hadn’t provided documentation for more than $260,000 spent on the events firm IDEKO Productions, and $5,799 paid to the politically connected Abrams Fensterman LLP law firm — which previously employed Adams’ first chief of staff, Frank Carone.

By Monday, most of that information had been provided or explained to the Campaign Finance Board, Hunter said. 

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