Analysis: The Watchdog Who May Need Watching

City Comptroller John Liu still has not revealed campaign finance details as promised.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    The city comptroller has been called the city’s financial watchdog. But John Liu, the current city comptroller, when it comes to political contributions, may need his own watchdog.

    It seems strange that the comptroller, whose job is to scrutinize city finances, is so shy about revealing the details of his own campaign fundraising. He is seriously considering running for mayor in 2013.

    The New York Times revealed that nearly 100 homes and workplaces of donors listed on Liu’s campaign finance report may not all exist. Some people on the list, the story said, insisted they didn’t contribute or the boss of their company gave for them. And some contributors couldn’t be found.

    And now, weeks after Liu promised to reveal the identities of people who raise money for his campaign, the comptroller is declining to provide this information. His campaign’s lawyer says it will be months before the campaign reveals the names.

    Liu recently reported that his campaign had raised $1 million in the first half of the year. He seemed proud of that but not eager to report the names of "the bundlers," the people who collect contributions from relatives, business associates and friends.

    Among apparent irregularities in Liu’s money-raising activities have been the phantom donors -- they couldn’t be found -- and those listed as working for companies they didn’t work for. And there were checks from different contributors that seemed to have the same handwriting.

    Susan Lerner of Common Cause told me: "Mr. Liu and his campaign have promised complete transparency. The list has to be made public by the filing deadline in January. Disclosure is always better than waiting. I would advise them to disclose the names now."

    "All that holding back does is make reporters more interested," she added.

    Solid advice from Lerner, a civic watchdog. She understands how denying facts can only make reporters more curious. That’s the nature of things. Reporters have a way of automatically thinking, when information is denied: "What have they got to hide?"