Commentary

NYC Campaign Finance Board demands transparency from everyone — but itself

Gothamist, Brigid Bergin, July 17, 2023

In May, the New York City Campaign Finance Board announced that Beth Rotman, its executive director, had resigned after a seven-month tenure, citing the “need to move to care for an ailing family member.”

The statement did not tell the full story.

Following a Gothamist investigation, the board’s chair acknowledged that Rotman did not resign voluntarily as the agency publicly announced. Instead, she was asked to step aside following a board investigation into concerns about her management.

“On May 13, Ms. Rotman was informed the Board had lost confidence in her leadership of the agency and requested her resignation effective immediately,” Frederick Schaffer, the board’s chair, said in a statement.

In the two months since announcing Rotman’s departure, internal documents obtained by Gothamist along with interviews with more than 10 current and former colleagues show that the agency, which prides itself on accountability and transparency, is facing an internal integrity issue of its own making related to Rotman’s exit.

Rotman’s short tenure at the CFB, which is considered the nation’s gold standard for distributing and overseeing taxpayer dollars to the city’s political campaigns, was marred by concerns over her professionalism, management style and what colleagues called wasteful spending, internal records show. Gothamist reviewed memos, invoices, receipts, expense statements and resignation letters from the past year through a Freedom of Information Act request.

While Rotman’s time leading the agency was brief, the fallout included two senior staff members who resigned during her tenure, citing concerns about her leadership, according to resignation letters obtained by Gothamist, as well as thousands of dollars in high-end office furniture and personal expenses, like food delivery and restaurant tabs, that did not conform with city policy.

In two written statements to Gothamist, Rotman did not admit any wrongdoing, and instead touted her credentials and noted that she is still a “valued adviser” to the agency.

Rotman’s responses

Read Rotman’s full statements to Gothamist here and here.

“Our role is to keep people trusting us and to keep faith in the system so I certainly would never want to do anything but support this and do not believe that I have done so,” said Rotman. “I regret submitting anything without the necessary detail to demonstrate why expenses fell within exceptions.”

Although the board said it “lost confidence” in Rotman over her conduct, the CFB continued to keep her on the payroll as a special assistant to Schaffer, the board chair, and the interim executive director, at her existing $250,000 annual salary through July 14. It was part of a separation agreement to prevent Rotman from suing the city, according to a signed copy of the document obtained by Gothamist.

Read More: Gothamist