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A Smattering of Independent Expenditures in City Election Cycle

moya ie htc screenshot via cfb

(IE mailer on behalf of Francisco Moya by the hotel workers union)

In 2013, independent expenditures by shadowy groups became a dominant talking point around the city’s elections that year. Large spending in races up and down the ballot led to legal changes post-election, but candidates that year benefitted from -- and were hurt by -- large sums of campaign money from groups forbidden from coordinating with their campaigns, but with clear stakes in the outcomes of the elections.

In 2013, independent groups tied to big real estate, charter schools, and other special interests spent almost $16 million on the city’s elections, with $8 million alone going to the wide open mayor’s race and $6 million spent in City Council races.

This year, with new laws in place that increase transparency and a far lower profile election, a far smaller number of independent expenditures, or IEs, have been spent, mostly slipping under the broader radar of political watchers. As of the latest filings with the Campaign Finance Board on September 22, in this year’s elections, independent groups have spent $1.2 million on city elections, about 7.5% of what was spent in 2013.

In further contrast to 2013, this year, IEs in City Council races, where some primary races were highly competitive, were higher than IEs in the mayoral primary, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has been seen as a heavy favorite all along, more so since evading an indictment for public corruption in March.

With the city elections now beyond the primaries and into the general election, there are few competitive races or races where independent expenditures may see room to influence an outcome.

Independent spenders file as either in support of a candidate, against a candidate, or for or against on an issue.

In 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio benefitted from $642,233 in IEs from various groups in his successful election to the mayoralty. This year, the mayor has benefitted from $61,309 in IEs, all from one funding source: 32BJ SEIU, one of the city’s largest unions. Most of this money from 32BJ, which represents building workers, was spent on promoting de Blasio’s candidacy in tandem with candidates for other offices, such as campaign literature featuring both the mayor and the particular candidate, often for City Council. The union’s total spending on behalf of the mayor alone was just $5,831.

The Transport Workers Union and venture capitalist and consultant Bradley Tusk spent $205,181 in opposition to the mayor through September 22; $71,156 of it by Tusk very early in the cycle when he was bashing the mayor and trying to recruit a strong challenger, a mission he eventually abandoned.

The single largest independent spender in this election cycle through Sept. 22 was Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities, the political arm of the Hotel Trades Council, the hotel and casino workers’ union. Through September 22, the group spent $400,976 on six competitive City Council races; all six candidates the group backed were successful on primary day. More than half of that money was spent on behalf of two candidates: incumbent Democrat Laurie Cumbo of District 35, who was the beneficiary of $122,465, and Keith Powers, the winner of a crowded, “open” Council primary in District 4, who was the beneficiary of $110,988. The rest of the spending was on behalf of Carlina Rivera in District 2, Assemblymember Francisco Moya in District 21, Adrienne Adams in District 28, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel in District 41. All four of these candidates won their primaries in “open” seats where the current officeholder is term-limited or, in once case, the seat was already vacant due to the recent corruption conviction of Ruben Wills.

The second largest independent spender this year has been NYCLASS Animal Protection, a major player in 2013 when de Blasio promised to ban horse-drawn carriages around Central Park. Although de Blasio did not fulfill this promise, the group did not spend in opposition to the mayor or spend on behalf of one of his primary opponents this year. Rather, the group, like the hotel union, focused on City Council races, with all six candidates it backed emerging victorious on primary night. The candidates included Cumbo, Moya, and Powers, as well as Justin Brannan from District 43, Helen Rosenthal from District 6, and Paul Vallone from District 19.

Also spending is the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union which represents uniformed police officers. As with the other groups, for the primaries the PBA avoided spending on the mayor’s race and focused on the City Council. On behalf of Moya, Mark Gjonaj of District 13, and Peter Koo of District 20, the PBA spent $28,900 each; all three were successful. The PBA also spent $41,628 on behalf of Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez in District 8, who narrowly lost to Diana Ayala. Ayala had the backing of that seat’s term-limited incumbent, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The New York City Central Labor Council’s (CLC) PAC has spent a total of $81,540 on two City Council races. Moya benefitted from $32,253 in IEs, while Marvin Holland, who unsuccessfully challenged Bill Perkins in District 9, was the beneficiary of $49,286 in spending.

Planned Parenthood of NYC spent $3,500 on behalf of Moya, who defeated convicted domestic abuser Hiram Monserrate, and also spent on behalf of three unsuccessful candidates: $3,500 for Amanda Farias in District 18, $9,000 for Randy Abreu in District 14, and $13,795 for Marjorie Velazquez in District 13.

Among Council candidates, Moya won the race to replace Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who is not seeking reelection, was the largest beneficiary of IEs in the primaries this year: $195,757 in total. Trailing Moya was Powers, who won the Democratic primary to succeed Dan Garodnick and has benefitted from $163,463 in IEs. In third is Cumbo, who beat back a tough primary challenge from Ede Fox in Brooklyn’s District 35; Cumbo benefitted from $146,941 in IEs.

Some of the largest 2013 indepdent spenders -- the Real Estate Board of New York and charter school backers aligned with StudentsFirstNY -- have not been involved in the 2017, yet.

Unopposed in the primary, Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis was not the beneficiary of any IEs in the primary as of the September 22 filing date. Neither was independent Bo Dietl. With the mayor’s race now into the general election, Malliotakis may be a prime candidate as a beneficiary of IEs going forward, if any GOP-aligned or anti-de Blasio interest decides to spend heading toward November 7.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

Read more by this writer.

James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race

letitia james via teamsters

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TeamstersJC16)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection to one of three citywide positions, has agreed to debate her Republican opponent regardless of whether the challenger, J.C. Polanco, meets the fundraising requirements to qualify for an official debate sanctioned and sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

James, who easily won in the primary, is well ahead of Polanco, who did not face primary competition, in fundraising and name recognition. Polanco has, however, put forth detailed policy proposals and a rationale for seeking the office, while also challenging James to debate him for the good of the public electoral process. James has decided to pursue the opportunity, despite any risks debating may pose to a heavily-favored incumbent, to take the debate stage.

“The exchange of ideas and information is essential to democracy and good governance,” James said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss my key accomplishments as Public Advocate and outline my vision for supporting and empowering all New Yorkers.”

James has focused her efforts as public advocate on litigation and legislation, suing the city on several occasions and introducing and passing more legislation than her four predecessors, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not clear how many debates James will agree to or who will sponsor any that do occur. For public advocate candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching program, two formal, televised debates are required for those who meet the criteria, which include both fundraising and spending thresholds. But, James may be the only candidate in the field, which also includes the Green Party’s James Lane and others, to qualify for the debates. A campaign spokesperson did not indicate how many debates James would participate in.

Polanco, an attorney and the New York City liaison for the state Assembly minority, has promised to run a positive campaign and debate the role of the office and policy proposals. He has called James “ethical” and expressed his fondness for her as a person. He has also challenged her to debate him even though he is many thousands of dollars short of meeting the legal thresholds for the official, televised debates, which would provide him a much-needed boost in profile.

“As my opponent stated: ‘Brooklyn people don’t hide,’” James said. “I am proud of my record of standing up for New Yorkers and look forward to a spirited discussion with my Republican opponent on the issues that impact New York.”

While James is indeed a Brooklynite, and used to represent part of the borough in the City Council, Polanco is from the Bronx, where he still lives. Though Polanco has pledged a positive campaign, he has critiqued James for not speaking up more forcefully about de Blasio’s ethical lapses. Polanco is running on a platform of pushing for changes to the public advocate position itself, perhaps through a city charter revision commission, and a variety of other agenda items. Unlike James, Polanco is an outspoken proponent of expanding charter schools. He’s also advocating for allowing qualifying NYCHA residents to purchase their public housing units.

As she seeks a second term, James is especially proud of her legislation, passed through the City Council and signed into law by de Blasio, that bans employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. It is a move aimed at helping reduce the gender pay gap.

In order to qualify for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, a public advocate candidate must raise at least $125,000 from 500 donors living in New York City. When matching funds are dispersed, up to $175 of eligible donations are matched six to one. Public advocate candidates are eligible for up to $2,369,350 in public matching funds for what is deemed a competitive race. Participants have a general election spending cap of $4,357,000.

As of her most recent filing, James had raised a total of $943,854. She had spent about two-thirds of it, leaving her about $325,000 in the bank, and not yet qualified for public matching funds.

Polanco had raised just $21,675. He has explained how much of a challenge fundraising has been given that New York City Republicans have a major registration deficit and most attention for any hope of a citywide victory is given to the mayoral race. Polanco has also said that his opposition to President Donald Trump has hurt him among GOP establishment figures and potential donors.

When informed that James had agreed to debate him, Polanco said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "I am glad my opponent has taken up my challenge for a spirited debate on the issues. I took on the Herculean challenge so that New Yorkers have choice. I believe we are best served as a democracy when we compete for votes. I look forward to discussing my plans to push for charter school expansion, fixing the MTA train delays, keeping jails out of our neighborhoods, protecting kids from the horrors we have seen at ACS and standing up to a mayor regardless of party."

Part of James’ calculation in agreeing to debate may have to do with being granted matching funds. A campaign spokesperson did not reply to a question about the subject.

Interestingly, Comptroller Scott Stringer finds himself in a similar position to James, wherein his Republican challenger, Michel Faulkner, is struggling to raise money and is unlikely to meet withe Campaign Finance Board thresholds for raising and spending money. De Blasio and his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, who has done better than her GOP counterparts raising money, will debate twice, along with any others who qualify or are invited by debate sponsors, such as independent Bo Dietl, Reform Pary nominee Sal Albanese, and others.

Earlier this year, the Campaign Finance Board and its debate sponsors scheduled the two televised public advocate general election debates for Monday, October 16 and Saturday October 24.

“The CFB’s debate program aims to give New York City voters the opportunity to compare candidates side by side in preparation for Election Day. The law was enacted to ensure that candidates in the public matching funds program debate their opponents, and we are excited that the Public Advocate debates will continue as planned. We will do everything we can to support and promote a vigorous debate,” said Katrina Shakarian, public relations officer at the Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with a statement from Polanco, a statement from the CFB, and other additional information.

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