Analysis: The Watchdog Who Failed

After an FBI probe resulted in the arrest of a prominent fundraiser, Liu's chances look bleak.

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    John Liu, as comptroller, is required by law to be the watchdog over the city’s finances.

    Sadly, he has not been a very good watchdog -- over the finances for his own 2013 mayoral campaign.

    But, with the arrest of his fundraiser Xing Wu Pan this week, a serious flaw has been exposed in Liu himself. He obviously has not chosen the right people to do his fundraising. At the very least.

    Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told me: "It’s clear that Mr. Liu should be more careful about whom he chooses to represent him. The question is: why would he not be more vigilant about the people around him?"

    At the heart of the charges against Pan is that the businessman bundled money from contributors. Bundling involves collecting money from the donors and then presenting the whole amount to the campaign. There’s a limit of $4,950 for each donor. But now federal prosecutors are focusing on how many of Liu’s donors were fictitious – that is, that names were made up to elude the law.

    The word bundling has an interesting history.

    It sounds like a cop-out. How could Liu not know of the fact, as the Times reported, that some people listed as donors said they had never given him anything? Did he not know that by inflating the money given directly by donors he was allowed to claim more money in public funds?

    Liu says, if the charges against Pan are true, then he was lied to and is "saddened" by the case.

    Sheinkopf said: "At the very least Mr. Liu should have been more careful."

    The comptroller looked like the favorite in the mayoral election of 2013. Now, it appears, he may not have a chance of getting into that race as a credible candidate.

    It’s a sudden drop for Liu and a boost to the chances that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former City Comptroller William Thompson may have for winning the Democratic nomination. Or someone who has not yet emerged. But that mayoral election is still two years away.

    The comptroller has long been referred to as the city’s fiscal watchdog. As I wrote a week ago, when it comes to campaign finances, the watchdog may need a watchdog.