CityLaw Profile: Frederick Schaffer, Chair of the Campaign Finance Board

In February 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Frederick Schaffer as the Chair of the City’s Campaign Finance Board. The Board, which will be thirty years old next year, is responsible for enforcing New York City’s campaign finance law, monitoring campaign contributions and disclosures, overseeing the public matching funds program and enforcing the rules. Schaffer takes the reigns as the Board heads into the 2017 mayoral campaign.

Schaffer was born and raised in Brooklyn. One of four boys, his father was a businessman and his mother a school teacher and then homemaker. Schaffer entered Harvard undergraduate in 1964, at the beginning of the era of public interest law. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in history before going onto Harvard Law School. After receiving his J.D. in 1973, Schaffer worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in its civil litigation division for five years.

Schaffer taught at Cardozo Law School briefly before becoming a Partner at Pollack & Kaminsky, which was a boutique law firm specializing in financial services litigation.

Schaffer returned to public service in 1985 to serve as the Chief Litigating Assistant Corporation Counsel for the Law Department. As part of the executive staff, Schaffer supervised the major litigating sections of the Department. Schaffer’s proudest moment at the Law Department was his role in a landmark HIV case. In 1985, Mayor Koch announced his support of enrolling children with HIV in public schools. Two school boards in Queens sued to challenge the decision. Schaffer, alongside Corporation Counsel Frederick A.O. Schwartz, Jr., represented the City and its agencies in the defense of Koch’s policy change. The lawsuit became a vehicle for educating the public about HIV and how it was and was not transmitted, and became an early and important decision enforcing the rights of HIV-infected persons to enjoy public services. District 27 Community School Board v. Board of Education, 130 Misc. 2d 398 (Sup. Ct. Queens Cty. 1986).

For a period of eleven months in 1989, Schaffer served as Counsel to the Mayor Koch before returning to the Law Department.

On leaving City government Schaffer became a Partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP. Schaffer worked in the firm’s litigation department specializing in commercial and securities litigation and employment law.

In 2000, Schaffer returned to public service as General Counsel for the City University of New York. As Counsel, Schaffer was responsible for providing legal counsel to the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor and the University on a wide range of issues. The University is the largest public university and third largest education system in the country. About 278,000 degree seeking students attended the University in 2015.

Schaffer joined CUNY at a time of crisis. The University at the time was widely criticized for low academic standards, falling enrollment and failing programs. In response Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani created an advisory task force to evaluate the University’s budgeting, funding and financial management as well as its governance. The task force’s report in June of 1999 listed a series of recommendations that were implemented by a new chancellor, Matthew Goldstein. Schaffer joined CUNY shortly after Goldstein’s appointment. Schaffer sat at the table for policy and education decisions that resulted in a successful turn-around of the institution. Schaffer retired from the University in 2016 after 16 years of service.

The job at the Campaign Finance Board falls in line with Schaffer’s commitment to good government. Schaffer praises the Board’s great history of implementing an effective oversight system and notes the Board’s continuing efforts to improve over the years. After every citywide election cycle the agency publishes a comprehensive review, which includes recommendations for changes to the law where necessary. Going forward, Schaffer and the Board are working to implement a series of Local Laws that were passed in 2016, pushing them through the notice and comment process. The Board is also continuing its seasonal election work with the 2017 elections coming up. In 2013 the Board paid $38.2 million in City fund to 149 participating candidates through its campaign finance program, and expects to pay out more for the 2017 election cycle.

Schaffer values his fourteen years in the private sector were instructive, Schaffer found the most exciting parts of his career were in public service. At the U.S. Attorney’s Office Schaffer got his sea legs for litigation, at the Law Department he experienced real clients and policy, and at the University he was able to help build an institution. Such careers often require some sacrifice but Schaffer recommends entering public service early because those who push it back are likely not to have the kind of opportunities he experienced and are likely to be disappointed.

By: Jonathon Sizemore

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