The campaign committee for New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall is thinking about giving back a contribution from a municipal finance executive and former state official who made the donation during a fund-raiser co-sponsored by his wife, campaign officials said Friday.
The executive, Dall W. Forsythe, made a $250 contribution to McCall's re-election campaign on June 25, at a time when Forsythe was a municipal bond consultant for Lehman Brothers, according to state records. The contribution occurred only days before Forsythe became a full-time employee of the firm in its municipal finance division.
Forsythe, who served as New York State budget director under Gov. Mario M. Cuomo from 1988 to 1991, began full-time work at Lehman on July 1 as a managing director in public finance. Forsythe's job involves finding municipal bond business in the Northeast, including New York State.
Under state ethics rules, Forsythe is barred from soliciting bond business on issues he played a role in during his employment at the budget division.
Although the contribution was tiny by past Wall Street standards, and appears not to violate new federal contribution restrictions, McCall fund-raisers are so sensitive to the charge that the contribution creates a conflict of interest that they are prepared to return the check.
Skip Roberts, McCall's campaign manager, said he will discuss the matter with Dall Forsythe, and if he gets confirmation that Forsythe was working at Lehman at the time, the contribution will probably be returned.
As state comptroller, McCall selects firms to serve as underwriters on several state bond deals and performs other regulatory functions involving state finances. In January, McCall's office selected Lehman as a lead manager for a refunding of state debt. The refunding has yet to be completed.
The committee's remarks followed inquiries made by The Bond Buyer about the fund-raising activities of both Ana Marie and Dall Forsythe on McCall's behalf. Until the inquiries, Roberts said the committee had not known Dall Forsythe was employed by Lehman Brothers, a major underwriter of New York State bonds.
When he made his contribution, Forsythe listed as his employer Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he taught after leaving the Cuomo Administration in 1991. A Lehman spokesman said the firm hired Dall Forsythe as a consultant in December 1993. Forsythe began full-time employment on July 1.
"On further reflection...yes, I will probably return the $250 check even though it's entirely legal," Roberts said.
Roberts said the committee has no problem with Ana Marie's contribution. Ana Marie Forsythe, who is a dance instructor for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, did not return telephone calls. Dall Forsythe also did not return telephone calls.
At the moment, municipal bond executives face severe restrictions on campaign contributions to state and local officials. The restrictions include a rule by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board and a voluntary ban arranged by the market's largest players.
The restrictions followed widespread reports of municipal executives making campaign contributions as a way to buy public finance business from state and local officials who select bond underwriting teams.
While Lehman executives and McCall officials say Dall Forsythe's contribution does not violate either the MSRB's contribution rules or the voluntary ban, his failure to disclose his consulting relationship raises questions, said Wall Street executives and public policy groups.
According to the voluntary ban, executives cannot make contributions. Forsythe gave McCall the money only days before he started full time with the firm.
In addition, firms using consultants must disclose this relationship to the municipality where the firm seeks business. According to Roberts, McCall's campaign manager, no such disclosure was made to him or his staff.
Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for the comptroller's office, would not say if Lehman had disclosed its relationship with Forsythe to the comptroller's office, which selects underwriters.
"No one at [the Office of the State Comptroller] has anything to do with the McCall 1994 fund-raising committee," Greenberg said. The Lehman spokesman said he could not comment on the disclosure by press time.
The fund-raiser hosted by Ana Marie Forsythe netted the comptroller's re-election campaign about $20,000, said Roberts and others involved in the event. Dall Forsythe attended the event, at which about 100 McCall supporters were present.
The fund-raiser was held at the home of Alan Fishman, who along with the Forysthes lives in Columbia County in upstate New York. Fishman, a managing partner at a New York City-based investment company, would not comment on the event.
A Lehman brothers spokesman confirmed that Forsythe's wife helped organize the fund-raiser. but said that Dall Forsythe himself played no role in the event. State records show that Ana Marie Forsythe contributed $1,000 to McCall's campaign.
The spokesman, who asked not to be quoted by name, said Ana Marie Forsythe is "politically active in her own right," but refused to elaborate on her past fund-raising activities.
"She and her neighbors in Columbia County organized the fund-raiser," the spokesman said. "She's known Carl for some time."
Roberts said Ana Marie Forsythe's fund-raising activities for McCall's campaign committee, established last year, have been limited to the June event.
Roberts said he could not recall Ana Marie's involvement in other McCall events, and doesn't know about her prior support for McCall when he served as a state senator in the 1970s.
At the moment, rules imposed by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board prevent municipal bond consultants and public finance executives from using political contributions to win bond business. However, public finance executives and consultants can make contributions of up to $250 to state and local officials where the executives are registered to vote.
"If this is the first time she is raising money for McCall or a comptroller candidate, that raises serious ethical questions as to their judgment in trying to evade the rules," said Andrew Greenblatt, executive director of New York State Common Cause.