In a much-hyped press conference yesterday in Queens, veteran Congressman Gary Ackerman endorsed Assemblywoman Grace Meng to be his successor in Washington, D.C. – but did not bring up the fact that he has a financial interest in Meng’s campaign.
In a sometimes heated interview after the event, Ackerman did confirm that he is a part-owner of the Queens-based political consulting and printing firm Multi-Media, which is serving as the primary consultant to Meng’s well-funded congressional campaign.
Ackerman told City & State repeatedly that the financial relationship with Meng’s campaign had no role in the endorsement, which was described by the New York Times as “hardly assured” because of Ackerman’s reputation as an eccentric who does not usually back candidates.
“Did it affect my endorsement? No,” Ackerman said, acknowledging that he was aware of Meng’s business relationship with the consulting firm he co-owns before making his endorsement decision. “[Multi-Media] doesn’t run my life and I don’t run their business.”
“I’m in politics,” Ackerman later added, “and I can make any endorsement I want.”
Meng is running in a fiercely contested four-way Democratic congressional primary in a district that includes a sizable portion of Ackerman’s old congressional seat. Other candidates in the Democratic primary include Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Councilwoman Liz Crowley.
In his most recent publicly available financial disclosure, Ackerman reported that in 2010, he held an investment in Tribco, LLC worth between $250,000 and $500,000 – Ackerman’s largest single holding. Among Tribco’s assets that it owns and operates are the Queens Tribune, a weekly newspaper initially founded by Ackerman in 1970, and Multi-Media, the consulting firm run out of the Tribune’s office that Meng’s campaign has retained. The value of those assets play into the overall worth of Ackerman’s share in Tribco.
In the interview yesterday, Ackerman estimated he holds only 10 percent ownership in Tribco, adding that he was a “small part of a group of larger investors.”
But a Tribco filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission from 2002, when the company was formed, lists Ackerman as one of several “beneficial” owners, along with Michael Schenkler, the publisher and CEO of the Tribune. Four other individuals, including political consultant Michael Nussbaum, who runs Multi-Media’s day-to-day operations, are listed as simply “executive officer[s]” or “director.”
In a statement, Meng expressed strong displeasure that her campaign’s decision to hire a campaign consulting company co-owned by Ackerman — and his subsequent endorsement of Meng’s campaign — were being raised as issues by City & State.
“Congressman Gary Ackerman is a champion for the middle-class,” Meng said. “The congressman has been a pillar of this community for decades and has been above reproach his entire life. The notion that the he would do something as untoward as these ludicrous accusations suggest is insulting and offensive.”
There is no record yet detailing how much Meng has spent on the Ackerman-owned political consulting company during the campaign; Meng has not been required to file a disclosure with the Federal Election Commission since early in the race. But it’s likely been a hefty sum, since Multi-Media is serving as the primary political consultant for a candidate that reported raising $300,000 in just the campaign’s first ten days.
Meng and Multi-Media have had a close relationship ever since the firm served as her campaign consultant during a successful 2008 Assembly race against a Queens Democratic Party-backed incumbent. During that race, Ackerman did not make an endorsement.
Meanwhile, Ackerman was unlikely to back Lancman in the congressional race in any event, since the two have had a recently distant political relationship.
At a separate press conference later yesterday, Lancman declined to comment on the relationship between Ackerman and Meng’s campaign.
“My focus is on my campaign and the way that I conduct my campaign,” Lancman said. “The way that we’re talking about issues, the way that we raise money, and the endorsements we’ve solicited and accept. And I’m pretty confident our campaign has not been compromised in any way.”
Prior to announcing his retirement from Congress in March, Ackerman was not just an owner of Multi-Media, he was also at times a client. According to the website OpenSecrets.org, Ackerman spent $10,000 with Multi-Media in his 2008 race and more than $19,000 in the current election cycle.
The relationship between Ackerman, his newspaper and his consulting firm have long been a point of interest in Queens politics. In 1987, the New York Times wrote that, “according to some of his rivals and other politicians, the newspapers and the advertising company often promote Mr. Ackerman and his allies and criticize political foes.”
”There is something wrong about Congressman Ackerman’s using campaign contributions to benefit his private business ventures,” then-State Sen. Leanord Stavisky told the Times 25 years ago. “If it is not presently illegal, it should be.”
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