By SEWELL CHAN
Published: June 2, 2006

Two of the five members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which is responsible for regulating the influence of private money in political races, hold part-time jobs that would appear to disqualify them from serving on the board.

The provisions of the city's Charter and Administrative Code that created the Campaign Finance Board in 1988 state that "officers and employees of the city or any city agency," as well as registered city lobbyists and their employees, "shall not be eligible to be members of the board."

But the board's chairman, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., receives $50,000 a year as a part-time senior counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that registered as a city lobbyist in 2004. Another board member, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, is paid $20,833 a year as the part-time Jewish chaplain of the city's Fire Department.

Late yesterday, after being asked about the matter, city officials said they were reviewing the eligibility of the two men to serve on the board.

"When he was appointed in 2003, Mr. Schwarz was eligible to serve because the Brennan Center had not yet registered as a lobbyist," said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the Bloomberg administration. "We're looking into whether he can continue to serve under the present circumstances."

Both men have been open about their part-time jobs, which are noted in their biographies on the Campaign Finance Board's Web site and were also disclosed in financial statements they filed with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board.

In interviews, both men said yesterday that they had not been aware of the restrictions, but added that they did not believe they violated the spirit of the law.

On Wednesday, in a letter to Nicole A. Gordon, the board's executive director, Mr. Schwarz wrote, "I have never been a lobbyist, have never participated in any Brennan Center lobbying and have a written recusal agreement with the center with respect to any work on city Campaign Finance Board issues."

The Brennan Center said yesterday that to clear up the matter, it had suspended its lobbying work in the city and that it would soon transfer that work to a new entity, the Brennan Center Strategic Fund, in which Mr. Schwarz will have no role. Mr. Schwarz said the board's general counsel, Sue Ellen Dodell, told him that the new arrangement "would obviate any potential questions" about a conflict of interest.

Rabbi Potasnik said he did not believe the term "employees" in the statute should be interpreted to include his role as chaplain, which began in 1998. He said his background was reviewed by city lawyers when he was first nominated, in 1999.

"It wasn't seen as a conflict and I don't see it as a conflict," he said of his position as chaplain. "When one looks at law, one looks at spirit at the law and letter of the law. In Jewish traditions, we're well aware of those two worlds."

Of Rabbi Potasnik's case, Mr. Loeser said the Bloomberg administration is "looking into whether a part-time religious chaplain fit the definition of a city employee as contemplated by the City Charter when Rabbi Potasnik was first appointed to the Campaign Finance Board in 1999."

Two of the Campaign Finance Board's five members are appointed by the mayor and two by the City Council speaker, and a chairman is selected by the mayor after consulting the speaker. No more than three members can be from the same political party. The members are unsalaried, but receive $100 for each day they perform board duties.

Several legal experts said the prohibition on lobbyists and city employees was perhaps too broadly worded.

"From my knowledge of the relationship Fritz Schwarz has with the Brennan Center and Joe Potasnik has with the Fire Department, from my point of view, any conflict would only be technical," said the Rev. Joseph A. O'Hare, a former president of Fordham University, who was chairman of the Campaign Finance Board from 1988 to 2003. "There is a technical inconsistency, which I hope is resolved."

Robert C. Newman, a member of the government ethics committee of the New York City Bar, said, "These facts, based on a narrow reading of the statute, do raise a legitimate question and concern." He added that he was "not ethically troubled" by either board member's situation.

Mr. Newman said the law should "distinguish between lobbying that is minimal and lobbying that is a substantial part of a person's work." He added that minor city employment that "raises no practical possibility of a conflict of interest" should not disqualify Rabbi Potasnik from serving. Mr. Newman, who works at the Legal Aid Society, said he was speaking only for himself.

Rabbi Potasnik, 59, is executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and is senior rabbi at Congregation Mount Sinai, a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn. He is also a lawyer. He was reappointed in 2002.

Mr. Schwarz, who is 71 and is known as Fritz, was corporation counsel from 1982 to 1986 under Mayor Edward I. Koch, and a longtime partner at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he is now senior counsel. He is chairman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

The Brennan Center has done only modest lobbying in the city, spending $18,354 in 2004 and $17,272 last year to support issues like voting rights, minimum-wage legislation and broader access to health care, according to filings at the city clerk's office. The center's executive director, Michael Waldman, said the lobbying consumed "less than a third of one-percent of our budget" of about $7 million.