STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The mystery of who paid for the billboard supporting Vito Fossella for borough president last year has been solved.
On Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) held a public meeting to vote on violations and penalties for independent spending groups during the 2021 general election. The group of independent spenders included Ben-Chris Realty LLC, who the Campaign Finance Board alleged failed to file a necessary disclosure report.
In June 2021, the Campaign Finance Board said it became aware of an advertisement promoting the campaign of Vito Fossella for Staten Island Borough President; the advertisement was the billboard near the Outerbridge Crossing.
Fossella’s campaign denied responsibility for the billboard.
An investigation by the Campaign Finance Board determined that Ben-Chris Realty LLC — which records show is owned by Benedetto Casale, owner of Casale Tile – paid $1,400 for the billboard that was installed on or about June 1, 2021.
The city Campaign Finance Board (CFB) law states that everything contributing to a campaign must be reported, including that which was personally paid for; donated monies were used; or services were donated, known as in-kind contributions.
CFB rules state: “For each in-kind contribution, candidates must maintain a written record that provides the date the contribution was made, the name and residential address of the contributor, a detailed description of the goods or services provided, the fair market value of the contribution, and such further information and documentation necessary to show how the fair market value of the contribution was determined.”
There is an in-kind contribution maximum of $1,500 per person or business.
CFB also states, “You must disclose all contributions and expenditures in the disclosure statement due immediately after they are received/incurred in our financial disclosure web-based application, C-SMART. If contributions are not disclosed for the period in which they were received, they will not be eligible for matching funds.”
BILLBOARD NOT FOUND TO BE LINKED TO FOSSELLA CAMPAIGN, CFB SAYS
The investigation showed the expenditure was made independently of the Fossella campaign, the Campaign Finance Board said.
Based on the date the expenditure was paid for, it was required to be reported to the Campaign Finance Board on June 11, 2021, but was not disclosed until November 29, 2021, which is in violation of the agency’s disclosure rules.
The Campaign Finance Board assessed a penalty of $350 for failing to disclose the expenditure on time.
Casale did not show up for Thursday’s hearing with the Campaign Finance Board, the agency said.
A woman who answered the phone at Casale Tile said they were unaware of any meeting or court date on Thursday.
“He thought he was just donating it and that was it,” the woman said. “[Benedetto] said he was just trying to do the best that he could help the best person for the job.”
“New York City voters deserve to know who is trying to sway their votes before an election. City law requires disclosure of who’s paying for communications like billboards or television ads so voters can have that information in a timely way and calls for fines when that standard is not met,” said Matt Sollars, Director of Public Relations at the NYC Campaign Finance Board
BILLBOARD MAY HAVE BEEN REASON FOSSELLA WAS DENIED MATCHING FUNDS DURING CAMPAIGN
During Fossella’s campaign, the then-borough president candidate did not receive public matching funds for all but one of the payment distributions.
To qualify for public matching funds, borough president candidates must raise at least $10,000 in total contributions from 100 or more individual Staten Island donors.
In addition to the fundraising threshold, candidates must also report all financial campaign activity through expenditure and in-kind contribution reports; report employment information for a portion of its matching claims and provide complete and accurate backup documentation for a portion of its matching claims.
A source with knowledge of the campaign previously told the Advance/SILive.com the billboard was not associated with the Fossella campaign. “It was a spontaneous show of support, much like a handmade lawn sign or social media post,” the source said.
Fossella’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the billboard.
FOLLOW KRISTIN F. DALTON ON TWITTER.