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Prosecute This

November 20, 2014

Since we’ve returned, we’ve repeatedly adopted stances that challenge the actions of prosecutors. Raised to respect authority, especially anyone in law enforcement, we’re a bit uncomfortable saying what we’re saying.  And yet, we keep coming across cases where we look at each other and say almost in unison: WTF?

The latest is this bizarre case involving a NYC Council race in 2009. The case was made by a special prosecutor after Staten Island DA Dan Donovan inexplicably declared that he couldn’t investigate the matter, which was previously investigated by both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the NYC Campaign Finance Board. Neither chose to do anything about it.

The essence of the special prosecutor’s charges is that the WFP was giving candidates who retained their in-house consulting team – known as Data and Field Services – a discount.

Where to begin? How about this: The charge flies in the face of what everyone ought to know about political campaign consultants, which is that they usually charge exorbitant fees. They do this because they can, and there’s nothing illegal about it.

But a question arises: Why should the special prosecutor come after Data and Field Services when they have charged a rate that’s more akin to the actual value of the services they provide rather than a rate with the usual exorbitant markup?

Shouldn’t candidates and campaigns have the right to contract for services that do not have high profit margins?

Keep in mind that Data and Field Services wasn’t providing the service for free – in which case the candidate would have had to claim it as a contribution. Instead, Data and Field Services only charged a rate that was less than what other non-WFP affiliated vendors charged. We confess here that we weren’t able to find the exact billing breakdown so we can’t say that Data and Field was xx percent lower than other vendors.

But it almost doesn’t matter. As long as the price charged to the candidate was reasonable, we can’t imagine how or why special prosecutor intervened.  That’s because the effect of his action is to stop campaign consultants from charging less and guarantee that they charge more.

The matter gets even more interesting when you consider the Data and Field Services model. Data and Field is not accused of charging different prices to different candidates. The prices were the same to the candidates they served.

More than anything else, this would appear to be a case against WFP and the way it works on behalf of candidates it supports.

The nice bit of irony here is that you have the NY Post championing the case against WFP, which the Post regards as communist. At the same time, the Post is championing a prosecutor’s intervention, the effect of which is akin to the kind of price controls you’d seed in a communist state.

We’re hoping someone somewhere speaks up to question what’s going on here, maybe from an anti-trust perspective.  And we’re hoping that everyone looks more skeptically at legal cases inspired and egged on by the media.

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