August 14, 2022

NYC Comptroller Brad Lander got OK from conflicts board on contracts with non-profits tied to wife’s group

City Comptroller Brad Lander said Wednesday that he sought guidance — and secured a go-ahead from — the Conflicts of Interest Board regarding his office’s review of contracts with non-profits tied to a group run by his wife.

Lander sought the guidance a day after the Daily News reported that dozens of non-profits that have contracts with the city are also members of his wife Meg Barnette’s group, Nonprofit New York. Since January, when Lander took office, non-profits tied to the group have received contracts totaling at least $544 million from the city.

“Yesterday, after the article ran, we flipped the article to the Conflicts of Interest Board and they affirmed that because we play a ministerial and non-discretionary function in contracts, and because Nonprofit New York is not a lobbying firm — it does not lobby on behalf of individual clients — that there is no conflict with the city’s conflicts of interest law.”

Nonprofit New York does lobby elected officials, though, according to records kept by the city Clerk’s Office.

So far this year, Barnette and Chai Jindasurat, Nonprofit New York’s vice president, have pushed City Council members to enact a law establishing a “living wage floor in nonprofit contracts from the city,” among other policies, the records show.

Last year, Lander sent a separate request to COIB regarding his wife. That one sought a waiver to appoint her to a task force focused on ensuring nonprofits that do business with the city are paid in a timely manner. The board granted Lander a dispensation on that matter as well.

In the second waiver request from Lander’s office, which is dated Tuesday, his general counsel Justina Rivera wrote that the comptroller’s office’s role in registering contracts with the city “is handled exclusively by the Comptroller’s staff under the direction of the Deputy Comptroller for Contract Administration.”

A former comptroller’s office official confirmed that’s been true in the past, at least in part, but added that in before Lander, the comptroller has also been directly involved when it comes to registering contracts with the city.

Chris Hammer, COIB’s deputy general counsel, appeared to agree with the reasoning from Lander’s office — provided that Lander isn’t personally involved in registering individual contracts himself.

“Given what you write about the process by which contracts are registered with the Comptroller’s Office, including the Comptroller’s lack of personal involvement in the registration of individual contracts, it will not violate [the rules] for staff at the Office overseen by the Deputy Comptroller for Contract Administration to be involved in registering contracts,” Hammer wrote.

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