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Commentary By Seth Barron

Yes, Taxpayer Money Is Going to Fund WFP Activism

Cities, Cities New York City, Public Sector Reform

After the Working Families Party endorsed Cynthia Nixon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is said to have threatened the funding of nonprofit groups allied with his political enemy.

According to WFP leader Bill Lipton, Cuomo told labor leaders they could “lose his number” if they continue to donate to pro-WFP groups like New York Communities for Change, Make the Road and Citizen Action.

Cuomo denies he’d punish nonprofits for opposing him, though his aides did call City Council members and ask them not to attend a rally Thursday in support of the groups.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a key force behind Nixon’s candidacy, condemned the governor for bullying“organizations that are doing good work at the community level because they have different political views. That’s the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships, not democracies.”

Others chimed in about how unfair it would be to cut off organizations that are helping New Yorkers.

The New York Times’ Mara Gay says the “groups . . . do important work on behalf of vulnerable New Yorkers who often have nowhere else to turn.” The council’s Progressive Caucus announced, “It’s more critical than ever that [the groups] be allowed — and indeed, encouraged — to continue their indispensable work.”

It’s easy to think the groups are social-service providers, and Cuomo is playing Scrooge — punishing the poor to wound an adversary. But they aren’t charities in the traditional sense at all; they provide few, if any, services. Rather, they’re political operations tied to electioneering and the pursuit of a broad progressive agenda. Their primary purpose is to “organize” people, in the same way unions or political parties do.

Make the Road New York is a Queens-based immigrant-rights group that gets heavy city and state funding and does teach adults to read, offer legal services to immigrants, run dropout-prevention programs, etc.

However, it also strongly encourages, if not requires, recipients of aid to attend organizing sessions and become Make the Road activists themselves.

It’s known for its pre-printed protest signs with a fill-in-the-blank space for whatever issue its members have been instructed to line up for that day: more schools funding, trans rights, fossil-fuel divestment.

To preserve its nonprofit status and keep its access to public funding, Make the Road New York maintains a fiction that it is not involved in politics. It likes to claim that Make the Road Action is a separate entity and the group that endorses candidates and makes political contributions, not MTRNY. It endorsed Nixon this year.

But IRS and campaign-finance documents show the two groups are closely tied and function effectively as one.

Javier Valdes and Deborah Axt, co-executive directors of Make the Road New York, are listed as the principal officers of Make the Road Action Fund on its 2015 IRS submission. Valdes has been named in the press as a “leader” of the WFP.

And Make the Road New York — which, again, gets public aid — uses its money to fund its sister group: Its 2016 IRS tax form (990) shows a $90,000 contribution to Make the Road Action Fund.

Taxpayer money is being used to fund political activism.

Another WFP-linked group, New York Communities for Change, meanwhile, is the successor to ACORN, which was shuttered after its intake workers were filmed helping a journalist posing as a pimp get housing for a purported prostitute. NYCC advertises itself as “a multiracial membership-based organization of working families fighting against economic and racial oppression.”

Legendary leftist activist Jon Kest, a close de Blasio ally, co-founded ACORN, NYCC and the WFP. NYCC and the WFP are headquartered on the same floor at One Metrotech Center, and NYCC operates openly as a virtual affiliate of the WFP.

Its board is composed of members of the NYC Central Labor Council, most of which, until recently, were the primary funders of the party. Jonathan Westin, director of NYCC, is a co-chair of the WFP.

Citizen Action of New York bills itself as “a grassroots membership organization taking on big issues that are at the center of transforming society.” It’s run by Karen Scharff, who is also co-chair of the WFP.

These groups are legally independent of the WFP and of each other. But it is obvious that they are in fact agents in the same cause with the same funders and goals.

It is ridiculous for political operatives to demand immunity from scrutiny, criticism or consequences when they play as dirty as anyone else.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post