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The Money Picture in the Queens DA Race, One Month to Primary Day

queens da seven

(l-r)Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, & Jose Nieves

Candidates running for the Democratic nomination for Queens District Attorney have filed their first pre-election campaign finance disclosures since January, showing their fundraising and expenditure from the last four months with just under a month to go until the all-important primary.

There are seven Democrats competing in the June 25 primary to replace the late Queens DA Richard Brown, who passed away earlier this month. Brown had already announced his intention to resign, prompting the first competitive primary for the seat in nearly 30 years. The candidates include former prosecutors and those without any courtroom experience at all, well-funded politicians with big money donors and first-time candidates with grassroots support.

Presumptive favorite Queens Borough President Melinda Katz outraised her opponents, bringing in just over $560,151 and spending $512,224 over the last four months. Though Katz closed out the fundraising period with $907,000 in the bank -- in part owing to large transfers that she made from separate state and city fundraising accounts -- she owes $306,000 in unpaid bills, mostly to Red Horse Strategies, a consulting firm, making her actual balance as of the filing closer to $600,000. She has received about 300 donations from individuals for her DA campaign.

Council Member Rory Lancman raised $246,158 in the same period and spent $655,371. He had $529,116 left in cash on hand (Lancman also transferred funds from separate accounts late last year and in January) as of the filing. Lancman reported just 101 individual donors to his campaign.

Gregory Lasak, a former state Supreme Court judge and long-time prosecutor in the Queens DA office, was the most prolific spender among all the candidates. He raised $445,314 in the period but spent $747,849 since January, leaving him with $380,571 in cash on hand. He spent massively on digital and television ads, polling, and campaign mailers. Lasak has received donations from nearly 600 individuals.

Public defender Tiffany Cabán has emerged as the insurgent progressive in the race and has picked up several prominent endorsements in the last few days, including from Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cabán reported raising a relatively impressive $256,673 from many more individual donors than her competitors, and showed a comparatively small expenditure.

The filing shows her campaign has spent about $105,317 on the borough-wide race, leaving her with $151,356 with just a month to go. A spokesperson for Cabán indicated that the campaign is driven by volunteers and running a bare-bones grassroots effort, bolstered by well over 2,000 individual donations, and that there are no outstanding bills to be paid other than the spokesperson’s own invoice coming in the next few days. The numbers also don’t reflect the expected ‘AOC bump’ that the campaign anticipates given the star-congressional representative, whose district spans parts of Queens and the Bronx, has now sent multiple emails asking for donations for Cabán and the endorsement news itself likely generated significant interest in the race and Cabán.

An analysis of Caban's fundraising by THE CITY, however, shows that several donors gave many times in small amounts, inflating the number of individual contributors the campaign claimed -- the actual number is 1,822, still well above the field. But THE CITY also showed that most of Caban's money is coming from outside Queens, in part showing her status as a progressive rising star, but raising questions about the actual depth of her support in the borough she needs to win, though she still has more in-borough donors than all of the other candidates have donors.

Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former prosecutor, was a late entrant to the race but she has raised $608,644 and spent $543,748 already, with $64,896 left in her campaign account as of the filing. She does, however, have $210,000 in liabilities, all of which were personal loans she and her husband made to the campaign. Malik reported more than 350 individual donors.

Jose Nieves, an army veteran who formerly worked in the state Attorney General’s office, raised $69,647 over the disclosure period and spent about $76,438, leaving him just $5,339 in cash on hand.

Betty Lugo, a former Nassau County assistant district attorney, raised about $97,627, spent $76,562, and has a balance of $21,064 as of the filing.

The final weeks of the primary campaign are expected to see a blitz of spending from candidates, to the extent they can afford it, with fundraising throughout. It's unclear to what extent candidates will purchase targeted television airtime, which can be the most expensive form of advertising, as they try to reach all corners of the vasy borough of Queens. The winner of the Democratic primary on June 25 is widely expected to cruise to victory in the general election given how heavily blue Queens is, though it is unclear how the general election may play out, especially with an extended timeline after the primary was moved from September to June starting this year.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max & Joey Fox contributed to this story.

Note: this article has been updated with information based on the analysis by THE CITY.

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