Gotham Gazette Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:18:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) The Mayoral Money Race as the General Election Heats Up bo dietl voting crop

Bo Dietl (photo: @BoDietl)

Six weeks from now, on November 7, New Yorkers will head to the polls to decide whether to renew the contract of Mayor Bill de Blasio, or if they want new leadership from one of the incumbent Democrat’s opponents in the general election.

The latest mayoral race poll, from NBC 4 New York/Marist, was released on September 19 and shows de Blasio well ahead of his main challengers -- Republican nominee Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl. De Blasio received 65 percent from likely voters, including undecided ones, while Malliotakis received 18 percent and Dietl 8 percent. Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and lost by a wide margin to de Blasio in the Democratic primary, will also be on the ballot on the Reform Party line, but he was not included in the poll. Michael Tolkin, another runner-up to de Blasio in the primary, has also created a separate general election ballot line called “Smart Cities,” while several other candidates will also be on the November ballot, such as Green Party mayoral nominee Akeem Browder.

Coming out of primary day with a massive win, securing 74.2 percent of the vote, de Blasio continues to hold a strong fundraising advantage, and his spending on an extensive ground game and media campaign has overshadowed his opponents. The most recent campaign finance filings, covering the period between August 29 and September 18, show the mayor raising campaign cash at a comfortable clip, with a majority of contributions under $175, which qualify to be matched at a 6-to-1 ratio under the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program.

De Blasio raised just over $272,000 in this last filing period, and his campaign expects that to reach $400,000 with the second round of payouts of public matching funds. This period also coincided with the rollout of a massive ad buy for his campaign, resulting in more than $3 million in expenditures. Of that expenditure, $2.51 million went to airing television ads and $175,000 to digital ads. Overall, the mayor has raised $5.25 million, and received $2.86 million in public matching funds before the September 12 primary. Having spent $5.78 million so far, he has about $2.34 million in cash on hand, with new public money expected soon.

“Our campaign’s grassroots fundraising has only picked up the pace since our strong showing on Primary Day,” said Rick Fromberg, de Blasio’s campaign manager, in a statement that also touted the mayor’s first-term record on crime, affordable housing, and pre-kindergarten.

Malliotakis, a state Assemblymember who represents parts of Staten Island and a sliver of Brooklyn, has also stepped up her fundraising, coming close to de Blasio in this last period with $241,000 in contributions. She spent nearly $300,000 in the same period, of which about $200,000 went to television ads. Malliotakis has struggled to garner name recognition outside of her home borough of Staten Island, with 49 percent of likely voters in the NBC 4 New York/Marist Poll saying they had never heard of her and 17 percent saying they were unsure of how to rate her.

Her campaign has not taken off in terms of fundraising, but it is buoyed by having hit the threshold for public matching funds, and is expecting a $1.6 million payout from the CFB later this week. By qualifying for the funds, “we open a whole new chapter in my campaign to retire Bill de Blasio,” Malliotakis said in a statement. “New Yorkers understand that Bill de Blasio has failed New York City and its residents, that’s why we are receiving the donations needed to turn this race into a competitive election.”

In total, Malliotakis has raised more than $734,412 and spent $571,462, leaving her just $162,950 in her campaign account without public funds. She also surpassed the dual thresholds of campaign expenditure and spending and required poll numbers to face de Blasio on the stage for two official CFB-sponsored debates ahead of the general election. The first is scheduled for Tuesday, October 10, just two weeks from now.

Dietl, the Trump-like former NYPD detective who runs his own private investigation firm, raised just under $20,000 in the last filing period and spent about $80,000. Unlike the other candidates, Dietl did not purchase any ads and has largely relied on social media to get his message out. He has raised just over $1 million overall (including $100,000 from a personal loan he gave his campaign) and spent a little more than $800,000, leaving him with $208,898. He is not participating in the public matching program, so he will not receive any additional funds through the Campaign Finance Board.

Albanese’s campaign has been a small-dollar affair throughout. In the last filing period, he raised just $6,360 and spent $4,424. Much of Albanese’s campaign cash was depleted last month when he made big expenditures to qualify for the Democratic primary debates. Since he joined the race, he has managed to raise $214,141 and has spent $190,081, leaving $24,060 in his coffers.

There are more than a dozen other candidates also running for mayor. Tolkin raised about $234,000 in contributions and spent about $192,000 in his latest filing. Tolkin’s filings also show $5.4 million in total fundraising and expenditures but a majority of that falls under “in-kind” contributions, in the form of services and branded merchandising that Tolkin claimed for his campaign.

The Green Party’s Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder -- the young Bronx man who was imprisoned on Rikers Island for three years on charges of stealing a backpack that were later dropped, beaten and put in solitary confinement, and later committed suicide after being released. Browder, who has criticized de Blasio’s ten-year timeline for closing the scandal-ridden Rikers jail complex, has raised $1,887 and spent just $100.

Libertarian candidate Aaron Commey has raised $2,001 and spent $1,111.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Mayoral Money Race as the General Election Heats Up Mon, 25 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Malliotakis Banks on Fundraising Blitz to Be Competitive with De Blasio malliotakis catsimatidis crop

Nicole Malliotakis, left, with John Catsimatidis, center (photo: @NMalliotakis)

Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis does not need to worry about defeating a primary opponent, and running unopposed is cheap. That dynamic will very quickly change on September 12, primary day, after which the Staten Island Assemblymember will have all of 55 days to campaign against the winner of the Democratic primary, likely incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a city with roughly a 7-to-1 Democratic-to-Republican enrollment advantage.

In order to run a competitive campaign against de Blasio, Malliotakis will need to be well-funded, and while she’s been careful with her spending so far, she must kick her fundraising into another gear -- and soon -- in order to run the type effort that might reach not only the city’s Republicans, but also the many independent, or unaffiliated, voters and moderate to conservative Democrats who she would need to pull off an upset win in November.

To win the Bloomberg coalition, Malliotakis may not need Bloomberg money, but she will need a good haul from the series of fundraising events her campaign has scheduled over the coming weeks.

The financial picture painted by the Malliotakis campaign’s disclosures to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) has not been especially powerful. She has raised just under $500,000 so far, a staggering sum in most municipalities, but not more than a decent haul in New York. Though she is a participant in the public matching funds program, which matches certain eligible donations at a 6-to-1 ratio, Malliotakis has not hit the matching claims threshold of $250,000 of qualifying funds needed to unlock the additional money, and her lack of a primary opponent would render her ineligible to receive funds yet even if she did hit it, leading her campaign to stress it is not a concern at this time.

The campaign has also pointed out that fundraising tends to slow down over the summer as big-money donors leave town. As the city’s more affluent denizens drift in from their tropical paradise of choice, the Malliotakis camp is betting on a series of big-ticket fundraisers to turn around their fortunes.

“We came into this race late, we ran into the problem, a lot of the heavy hitters, from July on, this person was out of town, that person was out of town,” said Rob Ryan, a spokesperson for the campaign.

The slowness in summer fundraising was evident last city election cycle. Joe Lhota, the Republican mayoral nominee in 2013, saw his fundraising dip during the disclosure periods including July and August of that year, even while he was in a tough primary fight with supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis. By early September of that year, Lhota had already raised a sum total of over $2.1 million, more than four times what’s flowed into Malliotakis’ coffers.

Prominent GOP consultant Jessica Proud of The November Team, who was involved with the Lhota campaign, does not believe comparing the two campaigns is particularly useful. “It’s a little bit of comparing apples to oranges. Lhota got into the race much earlier than she did,” Proud said, adding, “we not only had a primary, but a very competitive primary.”

Indeed, Lhota began his candidacy in January of 2013 – which at the time was actually considered a late start in the open seat mayoral race – while Malliotakis didn’t file papers until April of this year.

Lhota also enjoyed wider name recognition with the electorate and pre-established connections with the city’s deep-pocketed business community before he launched his mayoral campaign. Stints in the administration of former mayor Rudy Giuliani, including as deputy mayor for operations, and as an executive with Cablevision and the Madison Square Garden Company served to introduce Lhota to the city’s power brokers. His time at the helm of the Metropolitan Transit Authority post-Superstorm Sandy solidified his local prominence and helped spur his mayoral bid.

Malliotakis has not had that kind of exposure. “Either you have great personal relationships with people who are high donors, or you have a base of small donors. The difficulty here is when you’re an Assemblymember in Staten Island, you might not have access to either of them,” said Richard St. Paul, a lawyer and GOP consultant.

Though leading Republicans acknowledge the challenge at hand in unseating a Democratic incumbent, Malliotakis has reason to be optimistic. Not only has she been campaigning nonstop across the five boroughs and appearing on dozens of radio, television, and other media programs, but she is in the midst of a major fundraising push that promises to bear fruit.

An ongoing blitz of events will be an opportunity to reach donors and receive a significant injection of cash just as the general election season kicks into gear. These include a reception at the Empire Club in Manhattan to be hosted by the state GOP, which is led by Chair Ed Cox; an event to be hosted by Staten Island GOP Chair Ron Castorina; a reception held by hotelier Ted Conklin at his American Hotel in Sag Harbor; and receptions hosted by Vicki and Herb London at their Manhattan home; Sharon Handler Loeb at her Manhattan home; Liz Peek at her Manhattan home; and Caroline Hirsch at Caroline’s on Broadway.

The first of these, the reception hosted by Castorina, took place on Thursday. The events listed continue through September 18, after which there are sure to be more as the race will head into televised debates and the important month of October. Disclosure filings between now and primary day must be submitted to the CFB daily, and will show the extent to which the outreach to the Hamptons crowd and other GOP donors was successful.

As for de Blasio, the mayor has received almost $5 million in contributions so far, plus an additional $2.64 million in public funds, leaving him with a haul of over $7.6 million in total. He raised over $147,000 in the latest disclosure period, which went from August 8 to August 28.

That is formidable firepower to go up against, and potential major donors may think twice about opening up the checkbook to Malliotakis, who also trails in funds raised to independent mayoral candidate Bo Dietl, who claims nearly $890,000 raised as of August 28. Individuals can donate a maximum of $4,950 to a mayoral candidate. One way around that particular quandary might be to focus less on the big donors and chase small-dollar contributions of the sort that the matching funds program was meant to incentivize. This hasn’t been a traditional city GOP strategy, and doesn’t seem to be a particular priority for the Malliotakis camp so far, but Proud thinks it can have a meaningful impact.

“She’s a woman, she’s got the background as the daughter of the Greek and Cuban immigrants,” Proud said. “She can reach out to a broader and more diverse community.”

St. Paul agreed that the small donations could be a game-changer. “I think it’s going to depend a lot on whether the Malliotakis campaign can find that base of people that aren’t satisfied, that aren’t happy with the mayor and tap them for small donations and reach the matching funds thresholds,” he said.

Ryan, from the campaign, called pursuing the small-dollar donations the campaign’s “main focus,” but emphasized that it was important for the bigger donors to meet Malliotakis at the various events, often their first time meeting her.

“Over the next couple of weeks we’ve got an event almost every day,” said Ryan, characterizing the events as largely cocktail receptions, lunches, and even an event with live music. Over the past weekend, the campaign had various events in the Hamptons, including one with environmentalist Andy Sabin.

Part of what can make New York City mayoral campaigns so expensive is the need to hire well-connected consultants that can strategize and schmooze and raise more money. “A lot of times the people who don’t have that name recognition or the high donors hire consultants that have those relationships, but that takes money,” said St. Paul. Gotham Gazette’s analysis of campaign expenditures up to the previous filing period, which ended August 7, show that consultants had received the lion’s share of all spending.

Name recognition itself doesn’t come cheap. In a metropolitan area with the largest media market in North America, television advertising can run into the millions of dollars. Mailers, banners, and other promotion can cost hundreds of thousands more. De Blasio was recently reported to have spent $2 million on a new television advertisement, his first of the campaign.

Independent spenders – individuals and committees not technically affiliated with a campaign that spend to support or oppose candidates or policies – could also shift the dynamic of the race. Already, the Transport Workers Union, which has been engaged in bitter criticism of de Blasio over funding for an emergency Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plan put forward by Lhota (again the agency’s chair), has spent $119,025 on a TV ad attacking the mayor (TWU is seen as an ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, a consistent de Blasio foe with whom the union negotiates its major labor contracts).

It’s not clear yet what other independent spenders may jump in to support Malliotakis or oppose de Blasio. The Malliotakis campaign indicated to Gotham Gazette earlier this summer that it is hopeful IEs will become a factor in the race. A campaign spokesperson also indicated hope that the GOP establishment and donors would be more active in support of Malliotakis than they were in helping Lhota in the 2013 general election, when he was quickly dismissed by many after initial public polling showed de Blasio ahead by more than 40 points. The spokesperson said the help will be there if it is a competitive race and potential backers can see a path to victory for Malliotakis.

The most significant pro-Lhota independent spender in the last cycle was a political action committee named The New York Progress and Protection PAC, which spent over $180,000 in support of his candidacy. It was largely funded by the conservative megadonor David Koch, and established by D.C. lawyer Craig Engle. Reached by phone, Engle declined to comment on his potential involvement in the race going forward.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Malliotakis Banks on Fundraising Blitz to Be Competitive with De Blasio Tue, 05 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Inside the Numbers: Mayoral Campaign Spending bdb bk camp office

Mayor de Blasio at his reelection headquarters (@BilldeBlasio)

As New York City’s campaign season hurtles toward the September 12 primaries and November 7 general election, bringing new flurries of fundraising and spending from mayoral candidates, attention has largely been focused on the ‘raising,’ with a few recent donations getting headlines.

Less examined has been the spending, and not for a lack of it; according to filings with the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio alone has parted with over $2.48 million in campaign funds this cycle, far outpacing any rivals still in the race (real estate executive Paul Massey, who abruptly suspended his campaign for the Republican mayoral nomination in June, spent $3.7 million in addition to the $1.1 million he loaned his campaign, and has over $300,000 in outstanding liabilities). All numbers have yet to be audited by the CFB.

The mayor’s not the only big spender: security contractor Bo Dietl, who failed to get on the Republican ballot line but is running for mayor as an independent, has spent over $620,000. Rocky De La Fuente, a wealthy businessman who has said he would suspend his campaign after being knocked off the Republican mayoral primary ballot, though he has yet to officially do so, has spent over $350,000 in addition to $250,000 in loans to his campaign. State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, the presumptive GOP nominee for mayor, has spent over $160,000 and has almost $30,000 in outstanding liabilities.

Other than Massey’s extraordinary spending, the largest storyline on the expenditure front thus far has been Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, who had to raise and spend somewhat feverishly in recent weeks in order to qualify for an official, televised primary debate against the incumbent mayor, de Blasio.

Albanese, a former City Council member in his third official mayoral run, has spent over $185,000 as of the mid-August filing with the CFB, of which almost $134,000 was spent in the latest filing period encompassing July 12 to August 7. The ramped-up spending was part of his push to qualify for the first Democratic primary debate, to be held Wednesday, August 23. The city’s Campaign Finance Act requires that candidates who participate in the city’s matching funds program raise and spend 2.5 percent of the campaign’s primary expenditure limit ($174,225 for mayor), to participate.

The other contenders looking to unseat de Blasio in the Democratic primary have also been spreading the wealth. Tech entrepreneur Michael Tolkin – whose estimated $5 million in-kind contribution to his campaign Gotham Gazette reported on before he added more in-kinds that he valued at $2.95 million – has directly spent a separate $226,000 on the race, with close to $120,000 in outstanding liabilities.

The full expenditure limit for mayoral races is $6,969,000 each for the primary and general races, though no participating candidate seems to be in any danger of surpassing the cap. Dietl and Tolkin are not participants in the program, which is run out of CFB and provides candidates meeting certain criteria with public funds matching eligible contributions. Malliotakis and Albanese are both trying to hit the threshold to begin receiving matching funds from the CFB.

So where has the money gone? Below is an overview of expenditures by candidates spending at least the CFB debate qualification threshold who are still in the race: de Blasio, Dietl, Malliotakis, Albanese, and Tolkin. All filings are self-reported, some expenses have overlaps, and campaigns employ different reporting guidelines, so figures are approximations:

Bill de Blasio (Democrat)

Total Spending (including liabilities): $2.48 million (mouse over the graph for more detail)


Over 34 percent – more than $860,000 – of de Blasio’s spending has been directed towards consultants.

At least four consultants or consultancies have been paid over $100,000 each by the campaign, with Hilltop Public Solutions taking in the most at over $224,000 total in general consulting and management fees since February of 2016. Close behind is the progressive-focused firm Revolution Messaging, which has been paid about $222,000 since October 2016 in digital consulting and website development fees.

Ross Offinger, a fundraiser and former de Blasio aide who fundraised for the now defunct Campaign For One New York and was ensnared in the ensuing controversy when the nonprofit was investigated for facilitating pay-to-play with the mayor, was paid about $164,000 in finance consulting and fundraising fees. The payments began in November of 2015 and have continued throughout the scandal and investigations, which ultimately did not lead to criminal charges.

BerlinRosen, the communications firm with close links to the mayor, has been paid over $115,000 for consulting work since February 2016.

Wages make up almost 30 percent – about $740,000 – of de Blasio’s campaign spending.

Just over $200,000 of this appears to be payroll taxes processed through ADP Payroll Solutions, which was also paid separately for professional services related to the processing. Elana Leopold, the campaign’s finance director, is the staffer that’s been paid the most overall, more than $140,000 since April 2016. Phil Walzak, who worked on de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, then in City Hall, and is now a communications and overall strategist for the reelection campaign, has been paid about $100,000. Walzak left the de Blasio administration for the campaign in October 2016.

A series of other staffers have been paid $50,000 or less.

The campaign has spent about 13 percent, or some $320,000, in fundraising expenses beyond personnel, the largest of which was $41,100 in fees for the online fundraising platform ActBlue. Other expenditures are largely for catering and venues, like a $30,931 payment to the Sheraton Hotel for a November 2015 event.

About 9 percent, or some $230,000 of spending, has gone toward polling, all to the same firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, making it the single entity to have received the most money from the campaign. It was paid on six separate dates between October 2015 and the beginning of this month for costs associated with research, travel, and polling.

Just over $150,000 in de Blasio campaign costs, or 6 percent, were dedicated to rent and office expenses, including almost $67,000 to the coworking and office space company WeWork. Until recently opening its Brooklyn campaign headquarters, the campaign used WeWork space.

Another $100,000, or 4 percent, went towards professional services, including close to $79,000 in legal services provided by the law firm Kantor, Davidoff, Mandelker, Twomey, Gallanty & Kesten, P.C., which was also paid almost $51,000 in consulting services. The remaining $89,000, about 3.6 percent, went to other expenses like petition collection and ads.

Nicole Malliotakis (Republican)

Total Spending (including liabilities): $194,395 (mouse over the graph for more detail)


About $61,000, or 31 percent, of Malliotakis’ spending has gone to consultants, though she does not appear to have a dedicated campaign staff and has not paid any wages, meaning even her campaign spokesperson Rob Ryan is listed as a consultant. Ryan is also the most paid consultant, having received $19,641 since the beginning of June, about a month after Malliotakis launched her candidacy. Consulting fees of $15,000 have also gone to the Staten-Island based PR firm The Von Agency – run by political operative and former Republican County Chair Leticia Remauro – which has also provided roughly $29,800 in professional services related to media management and public relations, and $10,000 in advertising, which is included here in the promotion category. Other professional services, which together make up roughly $44,000, or about 22.4% of spending, includes $8,000 to the Staten Island Advance for online impressions of their work.

Promotion, including campaign literature, the cost of website registration and maintenance, and advertisements, accounts for about $41,000, or 21% of spending. Almost $14,000 of it went to Luke’s Copy Shop for campaign mailers and other literature. About $16,000, or 8 percent, was spent on rent and office supplies, including $13,750 to KRE, LLC for an office space, about $14,400 – just over 7 percent – went to fundraising expenses, and $12,000 – 6 percent – went to the firm Barry Zeplowitz & Associates for polling. The rest, some $6,600, went to assorted other expenses.

Sal Albanese (Democrat)

Total Spending (including liabilities): $185,802 (mouse over the graph for more detail)


About $87,000, or almost 47 percent, of Albanese’s spending went to promotional materials for his campaign, most of it to a small Minnesota-based firm called North Woods advertising. The firm is run by Bill Hillsman, a longtime collaborator of the Reform Party, which endorsed Albanese (he’ll appear on the general election ballot on the Reform Party line regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary).

North Woods was paid a total of $83,000 in a deposit, video production, and digital ad purchasing for advertising related to the campaign. Additionally, the firm was paid $46,903 in consulting costs, including retainers, and travel expenses. A good portion of this spending was likely related to the development and promotion of the “de-Blah meter” that Albanese’s campaign launched August 3, a gimmick that allows users to rate “How Bad is Mayor de Blasio?,” as the campaign put it.

Albanese’s campaign has also paid about $13,600 in consulting costs to LCG Communications, the PR firm belonging to his campaign spokesperson, Linda Cronin-Gross, rounding off the roughly $60,500, or 32.6 percent, that the campaign spent on consultants.

The campaign also spend almost $22,000, or near 12 percent of spending, on expenses associated with gathering petitions to get Albanese on the ballot. Only about $1,250 of this was spent on printing the petitions, while the rest went to other candidates who agreed to jointly pursue petitions with the campaign, probably using their own staffers and volunteers.

Just over $9,000, around five percent, of Albanese’s expenses through the most recent filing went to fundraising expenses, and $5,800, or about 3 percent, was spent on professional services encompassing a law firm and website design.

Bo Dietl (independent)

Total Spending (including liabilities): $641,389.18 (mouse over the graph for more detail)


Dietl spent over $307,000, or about 48 percent, on promotion of his campaign largely through Facebook and other online ads, and TV ads. Most of this went to two companies: Jump 450 media, which was paid over $147,000 for digital and Facebook ads in addition to $81,000 in consulting and services for media consulting and website work, and Political Communications Advertising which was paid $150,000 for the purchase of television ads.

About $195,000 in spending, or over 30 percent, went to consultants.

In addition to the consulting fees paid to Jump 450, Dietl gave the firm Polsinelli Public Affairs $40,000 in consulting fees related to PR and public relations services. Several campaign strategists and operatives similarly appear to have been paid as consultants, including campaign members setting up phone banks. Roughly $36,600, or 5.7 percent of spending, went to professional services costs, including credit card fees, website work, and $10,000 to attorney Martin Connor for legal services.

Some $35,000 or about 5.5 percent, went to costs associated with fundraising, mostly for food and beverage services. Almost $34,000 went towards office expenses including phones, office catering, and office supplies, and a bit over $27,000 went to wages.

Michael Tolkin (Democrat)

Total Spending (excluding in-kinds, including liabilities): $338,912.21 (mouse over the graph for more detail)


The bulk of Tolkin’s direct spending went to petition-gathering, with spending nearing $114,000, or about 33.6 percent. Most went to the firm Ardleigh Group LLC, which received $108,707. About $81,000, or almost 24 percent, was spent on consultants, including $50,000 to marketing firm Brand Knew LLC for marketing consulting services. Brand Knew also received over $71,000 in professional services fees for branding and marketing work, as well as media buying. It was also paid almost $15,000 in unspecified advance fees, which we are categorizing as “other.”

The rest of the consulting fees went to the law firm Falcon Jacobson & Gertler LLP, which also took in in $21,000 in professional services fees for legal compliance work. About $40,000, or nearly 12 percent of spending, went to promotional materials, including over $24,000 to Pasadena Pictures for video production work. As Gotham Gazette previously reported, Tolkin has also declared millions of dollars in in-kind contributions to his campaign.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Inside the Numbers: Mayoral Campaign Spending Wed, 16 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s Fundraising Gives Him Strong Footing Ahead of Second Reelection Bid Cuomo Niagra Falls

Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign finance filings show he’s sitting on a considerable war chest as he heads into the final year of his second term.

New York’s Democratic governor, up for re-election in Fall 2018, has $25.7 million in his campaign account, according to financial reports filed last week. And as he approaches the state election year, Cuomo’s fundraising momentum is strong. Between January and June, Cuomo raised $5.1 million in monetary and in-kind contributions and spent $1.35 million, according to the filings.

More than $500,000 of that campaign intake came from LLCs -- though Cuomo has said that he is in favor of ending the notorious LLC loophole, which allows those in elected office to accept virtually unlimited donations from corporations.

Cuomo returned more than $220,000 in contributions to various donors, some with problematic histories, or individuals with business before the state.

Several gifts, which are legal if they are related to normal operations, show up on Cuomo’s filings, including $212 on a gift from Tiffany’s & Co. A spokesperson for the state Democratic Party told The New York Post that it was a pen sent to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her birthday.

His campaign also made a $44.99 purchase at a Midtown Crocs store, apparently a gift for chef Mario Batali, one of the judges for Cuomo’s inaugural Taste NY Craft Beer Challenge this spring, The Daily News reported (Batali is known for sporting the iconic footwear in orange).

In addition, Cuomo has access to more than $1.3 million sitting in the New York State Democratic Committee’s primary and housekeeping accounts, which are controlled by the governor’s operatives, financial disclosure reports show. While fundraising in those accounts has been comparably slower -- the housekeeping account pulled in $1.6 million in contributions and the committee account $40,000 -- both entities will likely see more activity as the gubernatorial race heats up. Housekeeping accounts are limited in their function -- they may not spend on the election of a specific candidate, but can be used for party building activities.

This fundraising gives Cuomo a significant advantage over his potential challengers. No one has yet emerged to challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary. The governor is surely hoping for a smoother showing than in 2014, when law professor Zephyr Teachout gave Cuomo a tough primary race playing on his vulnerabilities and energizing those to the governor’s left who were disillusioned with Cuomo’s centrism. With little institutional support or political experience, and minimal campaign cash, Teachout won a third of the primary vote.

The general election field is also unclear at this point, with several Republicans considering a gubernatorial campaign. Two suburban Republican county executives, Westchester’s Rob Astorino, who lost a gubernatorial challenge to Cuomo in 2014, and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, are able to fundraise through their local re-election committees ahead of a formal announcement.

Molinaro is not up for re-election until 2019 and his Molinaro for Dutchess campaign account has lost money this year, shrinking from $50,832 to $34,547. Astorino, who is being challenged by Democratic Senator George Latimer for the county executive post this fall, recently raised $1.1 million on top of the $2.5 million he already had and spent $400,000, bringing his total nest egg to $3.2 million.

Other Republicans who have hinted that they might attempt to unseat Cuomo include Harry Wilson, who performed fairly well during his run for state comptroller in 2010 and is independently wealthy, and two state senators, Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, and John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse.

The Republican State Committee has $264,434.92 stashed, and nearly $1 million in its housekeeping account. Some interesting donors to the housekeeping account since January include $500,000 from state party Chair Ed Cox’s brother Howard Cox, and $3,500 from Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron, which is co-owned by the brother of Queens Democratic Party Chair Joseph Crowley and employs Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright.

Two other statewide incumbents, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both Democrats, also have money in the bank as they each eye another term. Schneiderman has $7.6 million in the bank and DiNapoli’s campaign account has $1.7 million. No one has declared an intention to challenge either official, though that may chance by the next campaign finance filing deadline, in January.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo’s Fundraising Gives Him Strong Footing Ahead of Second Reelection Bid Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Long-time Supporters, City Council Members to Host De Blasio Birthday Fundraiser de blasio wave

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Joanna Graham/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio turned 56 on Monday, and he’s marking his birthday as politicians often do: as an opportunity to reach out to voters and fundraise for his reelection campaign ahead of a key campaign finance filing deadline. And though the mayor said he was celebrating quietly with his wife on Monday night, the festivities will stretch into Tuesday evening, with a star-studded birthday bash in Greenwich Village where dozens of donors and close allies will show their support, and loosen their purse strings, for his reelection effort.

About 50 people - five co-chairs and dozens of host committee members - are listed on an invitation to a birthday fundraiser event for the mayor being held Tuesday at Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Manhattan. Most of the hosts and co-chairs have been longtime supporters of de Blasio and have contributed to his campaigns over the years, some as far back as de Blasio’s initial City Council runs.

The five co-chairs for Tuesday’s event include Doug Dunham, a trial attorney who was also named to the host committee for the city’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Dunham contributed $1,000 to the mayor’s 2013 campaign.

Jay Jacobs, chair of the Nassau County Democratic Committee, is another co-chair of the event. “I’ve been a friend and he’s been a friend of mine for many years,” Jacobs said in a phone interview. “I was with him the first time.”

Jacobs praised the mayor’s first-term performance and said he enjoys the idea of supporting him. He brushed aside any concerns about the investigations into the mayor’s fundraising efforts, which recently concluded with no charges filed against the mayor or his associates. The mayor was never accused of any wrongdoing. “Just knowing him and the type of person he is, I wasn’t concerned,” Jacobs said. “Now that issue is behind him and he comes out looking good.” Jacobs first donated to de Blasio in 2000 when he ran for City Council and then followed up in 2013 during the mayoral campaign, giving him a combined $12,175 over the years.

Event co-chair Jimmy Nederlander has donated $9,900 to de Blasio, giving him the maximum donation of $4,950 for both his 2013 and 2017 campaigns. Nederlander is president of the Nederlander Organization, one of the country’s largest theater operators. The two other co-chairs are married couple Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO of HBO, Inc., and his wife Lisa, who chairs ArtsConnection. Richard Plepler has donated $2,750 in total to de Blasio’s past campaigns.

Although not all the co-chairs have had a history of giving substantial amounts to de Blasio, the invitation to the birthday soiree indicates that a person must raise at least $25,000 to be named a chair of the event, and $10,000 to be considered one of the hosts. These contributions would have to be bundled from multiple donors since an individual can only donate a maximum of $4,950 to a mayoral candidate. VIPs at the event are expected to raise or donate $1,000 or more, and general admission tickets are priced at $100.

Tuesday’s event will likely bring in a substantial haul for de Blasio, just before the May 15 deadline for candidates to file their latest fundraising numbers with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

De Blasio has raised about $3.7 million so far and spent $1.4 million, leaving him with nearly $2.8 million in cash on hand. In light of the investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, particularly with increased attention to large donations to de Blasio’s now-defunct nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, from people who do business with the city and from real estate and other special interests, de Blasio has made a conscious effort so far to focus on small dollar donations, stressing their importance in fundraising emails to supporters. As a participant in the CFB’s public matching funds program, which matches qualifying small contributions up to $175 at a 6-to-1 ratio, de Blasio stands to receive millions more for his campaign through those smaller donations.

The birthday event, however, seems to emphasize larger contributions, relying on star power to bring in big money. Celebrity hosts for the fundraising event include actors Cynthia Nixon and Alan Cumming, famed author and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Broadway producer Tom Kirdahy and playwright Terrence McNally. In the past, de Blasio has held similar fundraisers, hosted by actors such as Steve Buscemi and Mark Ruffalo, just a few of the many liberal celebrities with whom de Blasio has strong associations.

A number of current and former elected officials are also hosting the event, including former Mayor David Dinkins, for whom de Blasio worked, Assembly Member Luis Sepulveda, and City Council Members Corey Johnson, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Ydanis Rodriguez, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, and Mark Levine. Notably, most if not all of the Council members are jockeying to be the City Council’s next speaker (current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a major de Blasio ally is term-limited out of office at the end of the year).

Johnson, who has been steadily working to position himself to become the next Council speaker, just endorsed the mayor last week and also hosted a fundraiser for him in January. “I’m proud to support his reelection,” Johnson said in a message when Gotham Gazette asked for comment about Tuesday’s fundraiser. A number of these Council members, and others who are part of the body’s Progressive Caucus, endorsed de Blasio back in December when the mayor’s campaign was actively courting support from local legislators to discourage potential opponents from jumping into the race. It was a strategy that, in combination with the results of the investigations into the mayor and his allies, worked well -- de Blasio is facing a small field of long-shot challengers in the Democratic primary.

Dr. Una Clarke, a former City Council member, mother of New York Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, and Brooklyn political powerhouse, has known de Blasio since her days in the City Council in the 1990s and has given about $850 in total to de Blasio for three separate campaigns. “I believe in his philosophy,” Clarke said on Monday. “He cares about the least among us.” She said she would work hard to help re-elect the mayor, and would signal to the Caribbean-American community in the city to vote for him. Like other hosts, she also said she trusted him when the cloud of the dual investigations hung over him. “I was not terribly concerned because I knew he was following the law,” she said. Insisting that investigations and accusations of impropriety are par for the course in political life, she said, “Politics is as politics is.”

For other hosts as well, de Blasio has been a welcome change from past mayors and they are eager to see him get a second term. Attorney Sal Strazzullo insists that he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but simply a supporter of de Blasio’s work. “I think the mayor has done some very good things for the city,” he said. “And he’s opened up a lot of eyes to causes that were swept under the rug under prior administrations.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Long-time Supporters, City Council Members to Host De Blasio Birthday Fundraiser Mon, 08 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Early Money Race in ‘Open’ City Council Seats City Council chambers

City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)

With seven sitting New York City Council members facing term limits and one having left the Council to join the state Assembly, this year’s municipal elections will feature a number of competitive open races and will bring fresh blood into the city’s legislative body.

While the vast majority of those in the Council’s 51 seats can run for another term this year, and most are, the open seats will see the bulk of the electoral competition for the City Council.

Come January, the Council will have at least eight new members. Through the September primaries and November general election, seven term-limited members will be replaced: Rosie Mendez (District 2), Dan Garodnick (District 4), Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8), James Vacca (District 13), Annabel Palma (District 18), Darlene Mealy (District 41) and Vincent Gentile (District 43).

Another Council seat is currently vacant following Council Member Inez Dickens’ election to the Assembly. A nonpartisan special election is scheduled for February 14 for her seat in District 9 in Harlem. There are 11 candidates vying for the seat and the winner will serve through the rest of Dickens’ term, meaning its final year, and will have to run for reelection later this year. Two candidates, Todd Stevens and Larry Blackmon, are leading the race in fundraising, having qualified for public funds under the campaign finance system's matching funds program. Stevens has $46,871 in his account and Blackmon has $44,954. The closest other candidate is Marvin Holland with $26,325. Holland raised the most private contributions but, along with most other candidates in the race, did not meet the thresholds for public matching funds by a January 17 deadline for campaign finance disclosure. The rest of the candidates' accounts range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with the most being Athena Moore's $5,005 and the least being Caprice Alves' $86. The next disclosures are due by Friday, February 3, based on which additional candidates may qualify for public funds.

Open seats invite numerous candidates for each race and the campaign finance system’s public matching funds program tends to help level the playing field for participants. Across all eight “open seat” races, candidates have been furiously reaching out to constituents and community groups, and, in the case of many first-timers, building their profiles and name recognition.

In some races, community activists are hoping to defeat political veterans from Albany -- state lawmakers representing New York City often look to switch to the City Council, where the pay is better and the trips to Albany fewer. Several state legislators are still exploring whether to pursue Council seats, with decisions imminent as the September primary is just over six months away.

In multiple races, female candidates are striving to strengthen the gender balance on the Council, a male-dominated body.

All of the eight “open seats” were most recently or are currently held by Democrats, and are likely to stay in Democratic hands. The Council currently has 47 Democrats and three Republicans, with the one empty seat (Dickens’). The Democratic primary is often determinative of the final outcome in City Council races.

In most of the “open seat” contests this year, there are candidates who have already posted significant fundraising numbers according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed before a key January deadline with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Fundraising can make or break a campaign, and early numbers are often predictive of what kind of campaign a candidate can run and how a candidate will do. Thanks to the city's public matching system, City Council candidates can often raise relatively modest amounts of money, qualify for matching funds, and run serious campaigns.

In Manhattan’s District 2, which stretches from Murray Hill down to the Lower East Side, Carlina Rivera leads the race, having raised $77,125 and spent $19,408, leaving her a balance of $57,717 in her campaign account as of mid-January. Rivera is a district leader and currently serves as legislative director for Council Member Rosie Mendez, a position she’s held since August 2015. Mendez has endorsed Rivera to be her successor in the seat. According to a campaign spokesperson, Rivera is a participant in the public matching funds program.

Running against Rivera is Mary Silver, a local attorney, education advocate and member of Community Board 6. Silver has a campaign balance of $30,523, having raised $38,725 and spent $8,202. A third candidate, Jasmin Sanchez, has posted no campaign contributions or expenditures.

District 4, which covers much of the east side of Manhattan, has six contenders for Council Member Garodnick’s seat. Two of them, Maria Castro and Diane Grayson, have empty campaign accounts. The early fundraising leader is Marti Speranza, a Democratic State Committeewoman and member of Community Board 5. Speranza is the former director of Women Entrepreneurs NYC, a city initiative, and has served as director of strategic initiatives for the Department of Consumer Affairs. She has just over $126,000 in her campaign account, having raised nearly $176,000 and spent about $50,000.

One of the benefits of running for an open seat, Speranza said in an interview, is that the city’s public matching funds program “has really levelled the playing field” and ensured that voters will have multiple choices. “It means we’re competing on our ideas and our platforms,” she said.

Keith Powers is also expected to run a strong campaign to replace Garodnick, and has raised $81,485 and spent $24,771, leaving him $56,714 as of mid-January. Powers, currently at Constantinople & Vallone LLC, a consulting firm, worked as chief of staff for former state Assembly Member Jonathan Bing for four years.

Powers pointed out that most of his campaign contributions are in small dollar amounts and came from district residents. “At the end of the day, fundraising matters, but the most important thing is having a motivated base of supporters in the district and having a record of accomplishment,” he told Gotham Gazette.

Also in the race are Jeffrey Mailman, who has a campaign balance of $32,916; Bessie Schachter with $19,732; and Melissa Jane Kronfeld with $4,138.

In East Harlem’s District 8, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala for her seat. Ayala has campaign contributions of $26,173, of which she has spent $1,733. Other candidates in the race have barely scratched the fundraising surface as of mid-January. Edward Gibbs has a balance of $5,884 while Edward Santos has $1,803. A fourth candidate, Tamika Mapp, has $25.

That race appears to be Ayala’s to lose, but it is still somewhat early.

Bronx Council Member James Vacca’s District 13 will likely be home to a competitive race, with six candidates running relatively close in fundraising. State Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj is in front, having raised $103,730. With expenditures of $19,276, he has a balance of $84,454. He also has the name recognition and political relationships that come with already being an elected official.

Second in the money race is Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader who Vacca has endorsed for the seat. Velazquez raised $64,715 and has spent $9,055, leaving her $55,660 as of mid-January. She sees this election as an important milestone to push for women’s representation in the Council, she said. “For a newcomer like myself, it’s been really empowering,” Velazquez said, adding that her initial fundraising haul “really solidified things for me.”

Local Bronx organizer John Doyle, who served for five years as community affairs director for state Senator Jeff Klein, is third in money with $42,987 left after raising $59,135 and spending $16,148.

District 18 in the South Bronx, currently represented by Council Member Annabel Palma, has only two candidates officially running, and neither has shown significant fundraising. Elvin Garcia, former Bronx borough director for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s community affairs unit, has $29,279 in his account. Amanda Farias has about half that, with $15,102. Farias has years of experience with the City Council, having managed the Council’s Women’s Caucus and served as the director for participatory budgeting for Council District 30.

Many, including Garcia and Farias, are eager to see if State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. jumps into the race to succeed Palma, which is he rumored to be considering.

The race for Darlene Mealy’s seat in District 41 in Brooklyn seems low-key at the moment. Five candidates have declared their intentions to run but none have raised funds for a formidable campaign. The biggest haul belongs to Deidre Olivera, who brought in $4,902 and spent $3,776, leaving her $1,126. Moreen King raised $2,000and spent $380, for a balance of $1,620.

In Bay Ridge, the District 43 race may be one of the few City Council elections with a competitive Republican versus Democrat general election. The only two candidates who have raised money in the race are Justin Brannan, a Democrat who used to work for current and term-limited Council Member Gentile, and Robert Capano, a Republican who has served under top elected officials from both parties. Brannan has received $57,385 in contributions and has $2,306 in expenditures, through mid-January. His $55,079 balance far outpaces Capano, who has $5,688 remaining after spending $5,679 from his $11,367 in campaign funds.

This is another race where the possible entrance of a state legislator could shift dynamics greatly: Democratic Assembly Member Peter Abbate is said to be considering a run. Even if he was to enter the race, he would face tough competition in Brannan, who is president of a local Democratic club and a long-time community activist in the area, as well as a former Gentile aide.

For his part, Capano said that he has been raising seed money thus far and that his fundraising operation will officially launch soon. “I think this is going to be one of the most competitive races in this election,” he said. “This is one seat that Republicans can win.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: This article has been updated to include fundraising numbers from the Council District 9 special election and to clarify that Marti Speranza is a Democratic State Committeewoman, not a district leader. 

The Early Money Race in ‘Open’ City Council Seats Wed, 01 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Council Member Johnson to Chair Fundraiser for De Blasio Corey Johnson and Bill de Blasio

Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)

City Council Member Corey Johnson, a top contender to become the next Speaker of the City Council, will chair a fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reelection campaign on Wednesday evening.

Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, has not publicly endorsed the mayor for reelection. Still, he is listed as one of four chairs for the fundraising event being held at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in Lower Manhattan. The event, dubbed “Cocktails in support of Mayor de Blasio” on a campaign webpage, will be headlined by Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Steve Buscemi. The two actors have lent their celebrity to the mayor’s fundraising, soliciting small-dollar donations in email blasts sent out by the campaign.

The other three chairs of the event include prominent trial lawyer Nick Gravante, and Anne Hess and Craig Kaplan, a married couple who have supported Democratic candidates in the past, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York State Senator Liz Krueger. Wednesday’s event comes ahead of a midnight deadline for the campaign to raise any new money ahead of an upcoming filing deadline with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The CFB will then vet the contributions to provide public matching funds for qualifying donations.

Johnson, who chairs the Council’s health committee, represents Council District 3, which includes all or parts of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village and parts of SoHo, the Flatiron district and the Upper West Side. He has been complimentary of de Blasio in public appearances like press conferences and bill-signings, and worked closely with de Blasio, the mayor’s team, and the NYPD in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Chelsea in September.

While he’s participating as a chair of the fundraising event, Johnson declined to comment for this article or offer an explanation of his support for the mayor.

Just last month, seven other City Council Members publicly endorsed de Blasio: Ritchie Torres, Ydanis Rodriguez, Donovan Richards, Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Helen Rosenthal. Of those seven, Richards, Rosenthal and Rodriguez have hosted fundraising events for the mayor. The seven Council members, all part of the Progressive Caucus, which Johnson is also part of, gave glowing comments about the mayor for a press release from de Blasio’s campaign. Torres and Rodriguez then appeared with de Blasio for a campaign event in the Bronx.

“Mayor de Blasio has paved the way for a more fair and inclusive New York City through Universal Pre-K, paid family leave, the largest increase in affordable housing in decades and safer streets across all boroughs," said Council Member Donovan Richards, in his endorsement. “We still have more work to do and that's why I am endorsing him for a second term as Mayor. The City is heading in the right direction, so we need to continue this push to provide more opportunities for working families and the middle class.”

Johnson’s involvement, with little apparent fanfare, is an expansion of efforts by the mayor’s campaign to curry favor among progressive Council members and boost its fundraising. The campaign is also seeking to discourage high-profile Democrats like city Comptroller Scott Stringer from entering the mayoral primary.

Following the seven Council member endorsements last month, Politico New York reported that workers at 32BJ, an influential union allied with the mayor, had reached out to some of the Council members to ask for their support. There was clear enthusiasm, however. “I was asked if I’d be willing to endorse — I didn’t even have to wait a heartbeat to answer with a yes," Council Member Levin told Politico New York. “I was actually kind of honored to be asked.”

Other Council members brushed off questions about endorsing de Blasio despite the fact that there are two grand juries hearing evidence from investigations into behavior by the mayor and his allies.

Johnson is a likely supporter for the mayor, though his bid to become the next Council Speaker could complicate things. His views largely align with de Blasio’s and he has worked closely with the de Blasio administration on a number of health-related efforts, including responses to disease outbreaks and preventative legislation. Johnson is also an effective fundraiser, having secured more than $264,000 for his own reelection campaign through the most recent filing, in July.

On the other hand, City Council members may be looking for their next Speaker to be more of a check on de Blasio after four years with a very close relationship between de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current Speaker who is term-limited out of office at the end of 2017 and was de Blasio’s choice to lead the Council.

More Council independence may be a selling point in the Speaker’s race, as Johnson competes with other members including Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Mark Levine. However, many Council members agree with de Blasio on most policy.

The next class of City Council members will vote for a Speaker in January of 2018, after the city elections this fall. More than 40 of the Council’s 51 members are incumbents seeking reelection this year.

Complicating any potential endorsement of the mayor are the multiple controversies surrounding de Blasio’s administration, which are currently the subject of two separate grand jury deliberations. The uncertainty involved may be giving pause to Johnson and other elected officials, like Public Advocate Letitia James, who recently hedged in her support for the mayor’s reelection after having given de Blasio her unequivocal backing in August.

Although the seven Council members who endorsed de Blasio last month did so in spite of the scandals -- praising the mayor for his record on affordable housing, universal pre-kindergarten and policing, among other successes -- the same might not hold true for other members, especially as they face reelection this year and may not want to find themselves associated with a mayor mired in legal and ethical questions.

De Blasio campaign spokesperson Dan Levitan declined to comment for this article.

Council Member Johnson had high praise for the mayor after the Chelsea bombing, telling the New York Times,“I actually think some of his best moments as mayor have been in moments of crisis. He’s good at communicating real-time information in a calm and measured manner.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Council Member Johnson to Chair Fundraiser for De Blasio Tue, 10 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Board Fines De Blasio, Others for 2013 Campaign Violations bdb 32bj 1

Mayor de Blasio accepts a union endorsement for re-election (photo: Ben Max)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign is being fined $47,778 by the Campaign Finance Board for ten separate violations, including improper post-election spending. Additionally, the board determined at its Thursday hearing, of the $3,994,496 in public matching funds de Blasio’s 2013 campaign received, it must repay $485.02.

The single largest fine to de Blasio’s campaign, $21,159, is for making impermissible post-election expenditures. The CFB found that de Blasio’s 2013 campaign improperly spent $160,888.45 after the election to 13 vendors; $116,250 of which was spent on Hilltop Public Solutions, the political strategy firm of de Blasio’s campaign manager.

“We strongly disagree with the CFB’s finding,” said Dan Levitan, de Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The CFB’s own rules would prohibit Hilltop from not charging for this campaign wind-down work.”

CFB ruled that the campaign “failed to provide sufficient explanations and documentation” regarding Hilltop’s role and services as a “general consultant” to the Campaign, and thus failed to demonstrate that the post-election expenditures spent on Hilltop were justified. In August 2015, The New York Post had reported on the eyebrow-raising post-election spending to Hilltop.

At the same time de Blasio’s 2013 campaign continued to pay Hilltop after the November 2013 general election, the newly-created Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit advocacy group started by de Blasio and his allies, began to employ the firm as well. Several of the same strategists who ran de Blasio’s campaign ran the Campaign for One New York, which was shut down amid controversy after taking millions of dollars in donations from entities with city business.

Other violations and fines imposed on the de Blasio 2013 campaign by the CFB include accepting over-the-limit contributions ($12,483); accepting contributions from corporations, LLCs, or partnerships ($6,086); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($3,200); failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($2,087); accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($1,000); failing to demonstrate that spending was in furtherance of the campaign ($806); failing to report transactions ($407); failing to document transactions ($300); and commingling campaign funds with funds accepted for a different election ($250).

Levitan said the campaign is “pleased that the 2013 campaign audit is now complete,” though they “strongly disagree with many of the CFB’s findings.” De Blasio’s 2017 re-election campaign, which again employs Levitan’s BerlinRosen firm, is already underway, holding fundraisers and even rolling out several endorsements.

The Campaign Finance Board on Thursday also determined that 13 other campaigns involved in the 2013 citywide election cycle committed violations, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who lost to de Blasio in the mayoral primary), chair of the City Council Committee on Finance Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

No one from the de Blasio campaign appeared before the board to contest the violations, nor did anyone from the Quinn or Ferreas-Copeland campaigns. Brewer, Stringer, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson did send representatives to contest the board’s findings.

Of the 14 campaigns determined to have committed violations, the board determined that nine campaigns are required to repay public funds -- which are issued to match small-dollar private donations to candidate campaigns.

”Today’s determinations reflect the Board’s commitment to safeguarding the public matching funds,” CFB said in a statement. “The $38.2 million that the Board distributed in 2013 helped ensure cleaner, fairer elections in New York City. Every campaign receives a nonpartisan, independent review, and the results encompass a range from technical errors to serious violations."

Quinn was fined $13,611 for eight violations made in relation to her 2013 mayoral bid, including $5,425 for accepting over-the-limit contributions and $3,200 for failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements.

The board fined Stringer a total of $10,514 for seven violations, including failing to report transactions ($3,689); accepting over-the-limit contributions ($3,500); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($1,500) accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($675); accepting contributions from corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships ($550); failing to document transactions ($400); and failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($200).

Laurence Laufer, an attorney representing Stringer in 2013, and Peter Frank, treasurer of Stringer’s 2013 campaign, appeared before the board to contest three penalties (though they did not contest the board’s findings), asserting that the penalties were too high. Bethany Persky, an attorney for the Campaign Finance Board, dismissed all of Laufer’s arguments, noting that the campaign had “ample opportunity” to respond to the board’s requests accordingly, and that, in regard to intermediary policy, “the campaign is essentially asking the board to rewrite guidelines.”

Four City Council members who won their 2013 elections were fined by the board on Thursday, the same day the Council passed about 20 bills to modify the campaign finance system. Also fined were six candidates who failed to get elected in 2013, many of whom appeared before the board Thursday to give explanations for their violations in an attempt to avoid paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in penalties. The CFB did a significant amount of business Thursday to wrap up much of its final work on the 2013 cycle, just before the 2017 cycle kicks into full gear.

Council Member Ferreras-Copeland was fined $5,718 for eight violations made during her 2013 campaign, most of which stems from failing to demonstrate compliance with reporting requirements for disbursements ($2,000) and failing to file or filing late disclosure statements ($1,850)

Council Member Ruben Wills was fined $810 for four violations, and owes $450 in public funds repayment. Former City Council Member Maria Carmen del Arroyo, who resigned in December, 2015, was fined $5,735 for ten violations, and owes a public funds repayment of $3,607.91, which represents the campaign’s final bank balance.

Out of everyone the board fined on Thursday, the steepest penalties were dealt to Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who, despite the pleas of a representative, Stanley Schlein, that the “application of the three time expenditure limit” is “draconian” and “so severe that it is disproportionate to the conduct,” now owes $68,639 in penalties for nine violations, as well as $2,225.68 in public funds repayment. Almost all of that $68,639 in fines comes from a $65,574 penalty for exceeding the expenditure limit.

Additionally, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was fined $3,036 for four penalties, $2,600 of which was incurred due to a late response to the draft audit report, and owes $405 in public funds repayment.

Thursday’s meeting marks the final one for CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn, who had previously announced her intent to leave the board. Mayor de Blasio, in consultation with the Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will nominate a new CFB chair in the new year.

Gill Hearn both praised and criticized the City Council for pushing through two packages of bills that will reform the city’s campaign finance system. While Gill Hearn was pleased to see the Council is finally set to approve a number of proposals previously put forward by the CFB, including a bill to eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, she expressed disappointment with the fact that the Council has essentially rushed through one package of bills with little time for public review and, according to the board, in need of additional tweaks.

The manner in which the Council and the Campaign Finance Board worked together over a long period of time to “get the details right” for the first package of bills “contrasts sharply with the approach taken for another set of bills the Council also plans to adopt today. These bills were introduced just last month,” Gill Hearn said.

The Council has been criticized for rushing the bills through, and CFB added to that chorus, stating in a press release sent out after the hearing that “the Board continues to believe the remaining bills could have been improved significantly if they were considered on a schedule that allowed more time for deliberation…We believe that some of these bills will have an effect that runs contrary to their stated purpose.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

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Campaign Finance Board Fines De Blasio, Others for 2013 Campaign Violations Thu, 15 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Fails to Explain His Support for Limits on Groups Like Campaign for One New York de blasio choices

Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The City Council will pass a bill this week to put significant limits on the donations that political nonprofits aligned with elected officials can accept from entities with city business. Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to sign the bill, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, into law.

While she has been a close ally of the mayor, in crafting the bill Mark-Viverito condemned one of the most controversial aspects of de Blasio’s tenure, The Campaign for One New York. And in supporting the bill, de Blasio is giving at least implicit acknowledgement that there are problems with The Campaign for One New York’s fundraising practices. Created and run by de Blasio allies, the nonprofit advocacy group took in millions of dollars in donations from entities with city business, chiefly labor unions and real estate developers, leading to allegations of a “pay-to-play” culture and law enforcement investigations.

During a Tuesday press conference, de Blasio did not directly answer questions from Gotham Gazette about his support for the bill and acknowledgement of problems with Campaign for One New York fundraising, instead defending the organization, which was shut down amid controversy. After the press conference, de Blasio’s chief spokesperson clarified that the mayor supports the bill because it helps get money out of politics.

The new regulations outlined in Mark-Viverito’s bill would limit donations from those with city business “to non-governmental entities controlled by a local elected official or their agents.” The new limits will match those that are part of the city’s public-matching campaign finance system, wherein entities with city business can give only $400 to a candidate’s campaign.

Thus, the bill the City Council will pass on Thursday and de Blasio will sign into law at some later date will create regulations that would have made the Campaign for One New York subject to much stricter fundraising rules, likely crippling its ability to raise the major sums of money that funded its main effort: a campaign to push for state funding of pre-K. A great deal of the money that Campaign for One New York spent went to political consultants close to de Blasio who ran the pre-K campaign.

A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito confirmed that the bill shows a belief by the speaker that the way The Campaign for One New York did business was not appropriate and that it is important to put limits on the fundraising that such groups can do from entities with city business. The bill also requires donor disclosure, something de Blasio’s group did voluntarily. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson said the speaker will address the bill on Thursday before it is passed.

Mark-Viverito was not present at a November 21 hearing on the bill, despite being its lead sponsor. The Council’s standards and ethics committee will pass the bill on Wednesday before the full Council votes Thursday.

De Blasio has been criticized for what some call a “pay-to-play” culture, whereby he created a new place to give large sums of money for those looking to curry favor with him and his administration. City Comptroller Scott Stringer has called The Campaign for One New York a “slush fund.”

The question of whether donors were promised or received government favors in exchange for their donations is the subject of ongoing law enforcement investigation. No one has been charged with a crime and de Blasio maintains that he and his allies acted legally and ethically.

The city’s campaign finance system has it’s doing-business limit of $400 in place in order to reduce real or perceived conflicts of interest.

On Tuesday, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor if by supporting much stricter donation limits to elected official-aligned nonprofits he is acknowledging that the way The Campaign for One New York’s did business was problematic.

“No,” de Blasio said, before giving an extensive answer that did not really address the question.

“We worked on the bill, we had concerns that some issues in the bill had to be carefully drawn so as to not exclude a lot of other types of activity, for example the effort that was put together to try and get the Democratic convention or any other major economic development opportunity for the city,” he said. “But no, we again, I think we just have a difference...We followed the law, that’s what governs here, the law. We not only followed the law we went to the Conflict of Interest Board to ask for guidance about the proper interpretation of the law and we disclosed all our donors, which you all know, there are many many organizations that do not disclose their donors, including some related to elected officials.”

During the same answer, de Blasio went on to explain the context of the work done by The Campaign for One New York, chiefly in 2014, citing opposition to his agenda from charter-school-backing hedge-fund managers. “I know we did everything right,” he then said, “and it can be looked at all day long and you’re gonna find we did everything right, but it’s not worth the distraction, we’re perfectly comfortable, I’m perfectly comfortable signing the bill.”

Gotham Gazette then clarified the question wasn’t about admission of breaking the law or even conflicts of interest guidance, but about his support for new fundraising regulations on elected-official-aligned nonprofits, asking the mayor, “if you’re now saying these groups should have limits on the fundraising they can do with entities with city business, aren’t you acknowledging that it was a problem to do that [with The Campaign for One New York]?”

“I’m only acknowledging that it became a big distraction, even though everything was done properly and even though we achieved the goals we set out to achieve, which were the pre-K plan and the affordable housing plan, specifically the mandatory inclusionary housing legislation,” de Blasio said. “I have eyes to see if something becomes too much of a distraction you move on and you do other things,” de Blasio added, again giving his latest explanation for why he decided that The Campaign for One New York should be shut down (he originally said it was closing up only because it had accomplished its goals).

While de Blasio did not answer the question directly, his spokesperson provided more clarity by email when asked.

“The mayor believes in public financing and getting money out of politics. But we didn’t have that system, so he played by the rules to ensure that his agenda and his fights for things like pre-k and affordable housing weren't unilaterally disarmed,” wrote Eric Phillips, de Blasio’s press secretary. “He would vote for public financing too, but that doesn’t mean he’ll quit fundraising until such a perfect world exists.”

Gotham Gazette continued to push for an answer about support for the new doing-business fundraising limits signaling at least implicit acknowledgement that the extent to which The Campaign for One New York raised money from entities with city business was inappropriate.

“These bills look to get money out of politics,” Phillips wrote. “Just as public financing legislation would. Both scenarios recognize that it's a better, more inclusive, fair system when money isn't in the equation. It's not a recognition that either scenario - regular contributions or CONY contributions - are specifically, unavoidably or automatically nefarious.”

The question isn’t simply about nefarious intentions or not, it is about real or perceived conflicts of interest or undue influence that large donations to pet causes or campaigns can have on city officials. These are the reasons behind the $400 doing-business limit on candidate campaign donations.

“He’s supporting it because he supports getting money out of politics,” Phillips wrote.

The bill will be discussed further on Wednesday and Thursday at the City Council. Mark-Viverito was in attendance for much of Tuesday’s press conference as de Blasio announced a new program to boost the life sciences sector in New York City. She left before the “off-topic” section of the press conference, where members of the media ask the mayor questions about a variety of issues.

Asked by a reporter from Politico New York whether he has a sense when the investigations into his behavior will be completed, de Blasio said, “I don’t know when it’ll end. I think the people are waiting for answers, certainly, but I don’t know when they’ll end.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Fails to Explain His Support for Limits on Groups Like Campaign for One New York Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
A New Challenge for De Blasio: Balancing Re-election Campaign and Governing de blasio NAN hands up

De Blasio at NAN (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

New York City’s municipal party primary elections are ten months away, and though he does not yet have a formidable challenger in the race, Mayor Bill de Blasio is not sitting back unprepared. De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, has kickstarted his reelection campaign, raising funds and formulating a campaign message around his achievements. In part, he is trying to preempt a significant challenger from entering the fray. But, as de Blasio himself has said, being Mayor is a 24/7 job and throwing an electoral campaign into the middle of it presents challenges.

One major challenge de Blasio faces, and in unique fashion to his three-term predecessor, is balancing his time spent governing versus campaigning, while also adhering to conflicts of interest rules for all city employees.

Answering questions recently, the mayor has given a glimpse at the balancing act involved in persuading people that he deserves to remain the city’s chief executive and performing the very duties that come with the position. At an unrelated October 26 news conference, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor about his approach to the issue. “We’re trying to figure out a balance,” de Blasio said, stressing that the job of the mayor “begins in the morning, it ends in the night, and it never goes away.”

De Blasio explained the challenge of finding time in his nonstop workday, one that begins around 5:30 a.m., he said, and includes consistent emails and calls until he goes to bed around midnight.

“Because we're in a democracy and there's campaigns and you have to do all the things around a campaign,” he said at the news conference. “As a campaign year is've gotta put more time into building up the apparatus. We try to find a way to carve out time, it's not always easy, but we do the best we can.”

Asked if he was dedicating any specific blocks of time, de Blasio said it wasn’t really possible to do so.

De Blasio is the first incumbent New York City mayor seeking re-election without self-financing his campaign since 1997, when Rudy Giuliani won a second term. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg bankrolled all three of his campaigns, thus needing to dedicate far less time away from his government duties during his two reelection bids, given that fundraising is both time-consuming and essential.

On that front, de Blasio has emphasized a return to his roots, shifting to a small-dollar fundraising operation akin to what Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders employed in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. De Blasio has hired the same digital fundraising firm, Revolution Messaging, that ran Sanders’ operation, famous for the $27 average contribution that the senator liked to boast.

It is also an apparent attempt by de Blasio to diminish the negative attention he received for his fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit that promoted his agenda while taking unlimited contributions, that has since become the subject of multiple local, state and federal investigations, and is in the process of shutting down. Neither the mayor or any of his allies involved have been accused of wrongdoing and de Blasio has insisted they acted legally. The mayor has repeatedly said he sought and followed appropriate guidance from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.

It is that same board that provides guidance around separating government and campaign activities.

On radio and television appearances soon after the press conference at which de Blasio discussed balancing his time, he elaborated further on the subject when asked. During his weekly segment on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, two days after the news conference, a caller asked about the time he spends fundraising. “I can’t give you an exact percentage,” de Blasio said. “I mean, obviously, governing is the vast majority of the time...I think most people who are decent human beings, in public life, would like to tell you we would like to spend zero percent of our time on fundraising.”

As he so often does when asked about fundraising, de Blasio stressed the need for campaign finance reform, advocating for full public financing of elections that would not only pull big moneyed interests out of politics but would also focus, “all that time that goes into fundraising now back into public service.” He promised, though, that “governing has to come first and I will just have to do the best I can with limited time in terms of fundraising.”

Without more clarity on the mayor’s schedule, it is unclear how well he is limiting his fundraising time.

But, it is apparent that the mayor is making many fundraising calls and attending a variety of fundraising events already -- he appeared at a small-dollar young professionals fundraiser for his campaign in Harlem Wednesday night; on November 15, he’ll appear at a fundraiser in Southeast Queens hosted by City Council Member Donovan Richards. Previously, de Blasio has attended a variety of other small fundraising events and had a large fundraiser at Brooklyn Bowl, at which comedian Louis CK, an outspoken supporter of the mayor, performed.

Closer to reelection, de Blasio has stepped up his public outreach from a government perspective, too, hosting a number of town halls across the city. He also recently added a new weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall to his schedule. On the inaugural show, on October 31, anchor Errol Louis also asked the mayor about his fundraising schedule. 

De Blasio’s answer was similar to what he said at the news conference and on WNYC, although once Louis pressed him he added that he spends on average a few hours a week raising campaign funds. “I want to emphasize that it varies so intensely by week,” he said. “The next big campaign filing is in the middle of January, so there’ll be more energy getting close to that,” he added. “But my goal is to keep it limited each week and if it can be just a few hours each week that’s certainly what I prefer.”

De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson said questions about the mayor’s time management should be directed to City Hall. A spokesperson at City Hall then referred Gotham Gazette to the NY1 interview.

Amid any concern that the mayor may lose focus on the job is wariness about the line between official business and campaign activity. “I think he should seek very specific guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board to ensure that he doesn’t cross the line because he has been suspected of crossing earlier lines,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He should be very careful about the use of government resources for his reelection campaign, which is not permitted.”

The city’s campaign finance laws and the City Charter place restrictions on when, where, and how an elected official might indulge in campaign activities, to ensure a separation from their official duties.

The Conflicts of Interest Board also issued a general advisory in 2012 after receiving numerous questions from elected officials on how they and their subordinates may engage in political activity. By law, no elected official is allowed to use city resources for campaign purposes or work on a campaign while on the clock. For instance, in the mayor’s case, he would be prohibited from making campaign-related calls out of City Hall.

There has already been one possible indication of that separation being tested. A few weeks ago, after the mayor hurriedly took a helicopter from Prospect Park in Brooklyn to an event in Queens to avoid being late, his city spokesperson would not confirm the purpose of the meetings that delayed him in Brooklyn. As has been widely reported, the mayor frequents Bar Toto nearby for political meetings and to make fundraising phone calls. The Wall Street Journal reported that the mayor often spends his Fridays at the restaurant.

“Any incumbent who is running for reelection needs to find time within the day to do the politics of this and the mayor is no exception to that,” said Dadey of Citizens Union. Although, the mayor is the first citywide elected to have begun to campaign outright for the 2017 cycle. The other two citywide electeds, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer, have not been especially active on the campaign trail, though both are raising some money. A spokesperson for James declined to comment for this article. Inquiries to Stringer’s office went unanswered. James has a fundraising event coming up November 16 at a Manhattan restaurant.

For incumbent mayors, Dadey added, “The political activities are almost hidden from view…because they want to be seen as doing their job as Mayor, not necessarily their job as a political figure. So it’s very important that they not be seen as a regular activity because that’s not what we’re paying the Mayor to do.”

What also puts de Blasio in somewhat challenging territory is that his situation is again so different from his predecessor, and many New Yorkers weren’t around for Rudy Giuliani’s tenure and re-election campaign.

“Mayor Bloomberg spent no time dialing for campaign dollars or hosting fundraisers,” said Patrick Muncie of Tusk Strategies. Muncie worked on Bloomberg’s 2005 and 2009 campaigns and served as deputy press secretary in the mayor’s office. He is also involved with NYC Deserves Better, a group aimed at unseating de Blasio next year that is run by Bradley Tusk, who ran Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign. Bloomberg spent over $100 million that year to narrowly win his third term.

“Of course Mayor Bloomberg campaigned in 2005 and 2009, but his passion was for governing and running the city, not politics,” Muncie said. He cited many of the criticisms of the mayor, including his mornings spent at the gym in Park Slope and his Fridays, as the Journal has reported, spent away from City Hall. “New Yorkers expect their mayor to go to work,” he said, “and to spend the majority of their time focused on their concerns.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
A New Challenge for De Blasio: Balancing Re-election Campaign and Governing Thu, 03 Nov 2016 04:00:00 +0000