From the Gotham Gazette:
City Councilmember Annabel Palma had her payday.
Palma has used at least $64,000 from local unions to pay legal fees and fines from violations of the city's campaign finance law during her City Council campaign in 2003, according to several sources familiar with the account. The cash was funneled through a legal defense fund that is not registered with the State Board of Elections or the city Campaign Finance Board and was established by Kevin Finnegan, the current political director for 1199 SEIU, where Palma once worked as an organizer.
Palma was slapped with $30,000 in fines from the Campaign Finance Board because her 2003 campaign allegedly coordinated its activities too closely with 1199 -- the city's large and powerful healthcare workers union. The Bronx councilmember also racked up substantial legal fees during the dispute.
According to filings at the State Board of Elections, 1199 contributed a total of $51,675 to the Annabel Palma Legal Defense Fund -- making one donation in December of 2006 and another in August of 2009. The Bronx Democratic County Committee, a local UAW, United Federation of Teachers political action committee and a local International Union of Operating Engineers also contributed to the Palma defense fund.
Palma said she was not involved with setting up the fund.
"That fund was created separate and apart from my knowledge," said Palma. "It’s an independent fund. Through conversations, [it] was created by my supporters that believed that someone like myself, who came up through the ranks, needed help in paying off these fines."
The account predates Finnegan's tenure as the political director of 1199, he said, and it was established while he was still a partner at Levy Ratner -- a labor-linked law firm.
At least two other current City Council members have used independent funds to pay off fines associated with their campaign activity. According to files at the State Board of Elections, council members Joel Rivera and Elizabeth Crowley also have similar accounts.
These accounts, which are legal, are not subject to contribution limits or disclosure and may operate completely independently from the campaign finance system, despite the fact that the three officials accepted public dollars for their campaigns.