Gotham Gazette Tue, 23 Jul 2019 20:11:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 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 NYC Votes 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

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A Smattering of Independent Expenditures in City Election Cycle Mon, 25 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Super PAC’s Big Primary Spending Mostly Comes Up Short rivera crowd campaign site

Sen. Rivera (photo: Rivera's campaign website)

A Super PAC that spent more than a million dollars on state legislative primaries mostly came up short on Tuesday. New Yorkers for Independent Action supported candidates who back its main issue: a proposed education investment tax credit that would largely help charter and private schools, and used its deep resources to attack those candidates’ opponents. The tax credit legislation has stalled in Albany and NYIA is looking for more state legislators who favor it.

The only candidates officially backed by NYIA to claim victory on Tuesday were incumbents that NYIA spent significantly less on than other candidates. NYIA also appears to have decided to support those three incumbents later in the election season than the several challengers it backed.

The PAC was involved in seven primary contests: five Assembly and two Senate. It supported four challengers and three incumbents, all Democrats. All four of the challengers it backed lost. According to the group’s September 2 filing with the state Board of Elections, it had spent a total of $1,682,000. Future filings will likely reveal more spending in the final days of the primaries. New Yorkers for Independent Action is also expected to be heavily involved in the general election, which is November 8.

In a statement it put out after the primaries, NYIA touted the victories of the incumbents it supported while also claiming NYIA supporters played a major role in the victory of Marisol Alcantara, who won a tight four-way race to replace Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is leaving the Senate to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel.

Alcantara was endorsed by Espaillat and many of his political allies and backed financially by the Independent Democratic Conference. Filings show that NYIA did not spend in Alcantara’s race, but at least one of its major donors did give to the IDC.

"[O]ur supporters played big in the biggest and most consequential race of the night and won, while the teachers union candidate finished 3rd out of four candidates,” a NYIA spokesperson, Bob Bellafiore, said in a statement referring to Alcantara’s victory and the performance of her opponent Robert Jackson.

Where NYIA did spend big, however, it did not win. It does claim to have influenced the public debate on its issue and to have made those who oppose the tax credit work for their seats.

According to the most recent filing, NYIA had spent $480,197 - the most it spent in any race - backing City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera, in the Bronx. Rivera performed five points better this year than he did in his last contest with Cabrera, in 2014, winning 60 percent of the vote to Cabrera's 35 percent. NYIA paid for widely-targeted mailers in the district, some of which bashed Rivera for failing to deal with Albany corruption, while others praised Cabrera’s leadership.

Rivera would have likely been working to help other Democrats this summer had he not faced another challenge from Cabrera. Cabrera had limited institutional or financial support, leading Rivera to see his candidacy made possible exclusively by NYIA. Cabrera reported raising $72,000 from January to July; by his 11-day pre-primary filing he had $282 on hand.

NYIA backed Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who significantly increased his margin of victory over his repeat opponent Hector Ramirez. Two years ago Pichardo won by two votes; this year by nearly 1,400. Ramirez still faces multiple charges of election fraud from their 2014 encounter.

NYIA reported spending $50,222 on the contest through its most recent filing. Meanwhile, Ramirez’s July filing with the BOE shows he only had $9,000 on hand. Ramirez’s 11-day pre-primary filing is not posted on the BOE website. Pichardo had balance of $51,000 in July and reported having $48,000 on hand in his 11-day filing.

NYIA spent just $15,000 supporting Assemblymember Vivian Cook, but $115,000 supporting Sen. Roxanne Persaud, both of whom won.

Asked about the impact NYIA had on her victory, Cook, a Democrat from Queens, was cautious. “It was a nice piece of literature about me and I had no idea where it came from. I think it helped,” Cook told Gotham Gazette. It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.

Bellafiore, of NYIA, told Gotham Gazette that the Super PAC’s efforts were not just about winning. “It is very hard to beat incumbents. No legislator ever wakes up and thinks ‘I want a primary this year.’ It’s about making them work and telling them there is no free ride, that people are paying attention.”

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action NY and member of The Hedge Clippers, a group that monitors billionaire spending in politics, said she thinks Bellafiore and NYIA are trying to find the silver lining in a terrible performance, “He is trying to find way to say it wasn't a total loss, but they totally lost and if all they wanted was a fight, it just wasn’t much of a fight.”

Bellafiore says NYIA is a single-issue PAC focused on passing a bill that would give tax credits to those who donate to private and charter schools. Labor groups see the PAC as another wing of the charter school lobby and have pointed out the group has close ties to many wealthy out-of-state charter school advocates, including Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress.

Advocates involved with teachers unions do not agree with Bellafiore’s assessment of NYIA’s election night impact.

In a post-primary press release, the labor-backed Working Families Party touted what its leaders see as NYIA failure. ”In races in NYC and on Long Island, WFP candidates fended off primary challengers backed by the billionaire-funded "New Yorkers for Independent Action" SuperPAC seeking to privatize public schools. That included Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris in NYC and Assemblymember Phil Ramos on Long Island, all of whom won despite a massive, million-dollar independent expenditure from NYIA,” the release said.

Scharff said that voters “saw through” large spending of “NYC billionaires” who were pushing “an agenda that benefits them.” Critics of the education tax credit have often said that the wealthy would be able to take most advantage of the program while also supporting their favored schools outside the traditional public school system.

NYIA plans to support Republicans and Democrats in the general election, but Bellafiore declined to comment on which races NYIA will target.

Asked what he hopes the Legislature takes away from the Super PAC’s efforts, Bellafiore said, “The message I hope they hear is that there are communities across the state where parents want to opt their children out of public schools and don’t have the money. These are families that would benefit from the scholarship bill. If half of the people on the other side of this were as obsessed with helping parents as they are with our funders we could get something done to to fix education.”

Filings thus far show the group spent: $480,197 on Cabrera’s failed bid to replace Rivera; $378,481 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy’s failed challenge to Assemblymember Latrice Walker; $321,309 supporting Kate Cucco’s failed challenge to Assemblymember Pamela Harris; and $321,261 on Giovanni Mata’s failed challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos.

NYIA also reported having spent $115,252 on Persaud’s victory over Mercedes Narcisse; $50,222 on Pichardo’s victory over Ramirez; and $15,000 on Cook’s victory over Rodney Reid. The next filings will show final primary election expenditures.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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Super PAC’s Big Primary Spending Mostly Comes Up Short Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Board Considers Rules Changes, Including Controversial 'Coordination' Proposal city hall via nyctransition

City Hall (photo via @NYCtransition)

Ahead of next year’s elections, the New York City Campaign Finance Board is considering a number of rules changes that would make the city campaign finance system more efficient and clear, and less onerous. One proposal on the list, however, has raised the hackles of unions, nonprofits, and campaign finance experts.

After every four-year city election cycle, the Campaign Finance Board is busy at work analyzing potential deficiencies in the campaign finance system and taking steps to plug any holes. Part of this is a routine update of campaign finance rules concerning a number of areas including, but not limited to, candidate registration and certification requirements, campaign recordkeeping, disclosure rules, contributions, and expenditures. The CFB tightens the nuts and bolts of the system, issuing clarifications for existing rules and scrapping those that have been rendered obsolete.

Ahead of the 2017 elections, the CFB is undertaking another round of rules updates. The board held a public hearing on Thursday to solicit feedback on a fairly long list of changes, some extremely technical, which were proposed last month.

Some proposals aim at reducing coordination between campaigns and independent expenditure groups (Super PACs), others make it easier for candidates to run campaigns and simplify documentations requirements while also tightening restrictions on how public matching funds may be used. These proposals also have the additional benefit of making the CFB’s post-election audit and enforcement procedures more effective.

Some of the more significant changes on the table deal with independent expenditures, which are anathema to the CFB’s mission of minimizing the effect of money on elections. In that vein, the CFB put forward three proposals, the first of which is perhaps the most important one in the entire package.

It would add two new factors to determine whether a campaign is coordinating with independent expenditure entities. The board would monitor whether a candidate raised funds for an independent spender or if the candidate and the entity had the same employees. If any of these factors, along with six others that the board already considers, are met in an election cycle, “the Board will assume an expenditure was coordinated unless there is evidence to the contrary,” reads a post on the CFB website.

Two other rule proposals would require increased disclosure from independent spenders, including providing information about who owns or contributes to a group’s contributors and making that information available on public communications.

Renowned campaign finance attorney Laurence Laufer, who served as general counsel to the CFB and helped formulate many of its policies, testified on Thursday and disagreed with a number of the CFB’s proposals. Chiefly, though, he expressed opposition to the one that would lead to a “rebuttable presumption against independence” of an expenditure and a campaign.

Laufer has also worked for the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit set up by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s allies to promote his agenda. The Campaign for One New York and the de Blasio administration are being investigated by federal authorities over whether donors to the former got favorable treatment from the latter. The CFB also recently ruled that spending by the Campaign for One New York would not count toward de Blasio’s re-election campaign spending, though the board is aiming the new rule and seeking other changes to alter how elected officials and political nonprofits operate.

Speaking at the hearing, Laufer said the presumption that an expenditure is coordinated based on multiple factors is contrary to the existing law. He stressed that the burden of proof was on the CFB to show coordination rather than on a campaign to refute it. “In addition,” he argued, “this proposed presumption against independence is in derogation of First Amendment rights and it will chill the making of independent expenditures. That’s subject to strict scrutiny under First Amendment review because it’s treated essentially as a spending limit.”

Laufer also questioned the basis for the proposal, stating that it contradicts one of the CFB’s own past advisory opinions. Laufer submitted about a dozen pages of written testimony to the board as well, pointing out issues with other proposals in the package.

Brent Garin, deputy general counsel for SEIU Local 32BJ, a labor union, said at the hearing, “We fear that these proposed changes, particularly the imposition of the presumption of coordinated expenses, will inhibit our members’ participation in the political process.” He said the CFB should withdraw its proposal and submit an amended one to allow for an extended period of public comment. “Approving the current proposal would deprive the public of input for changes that drastically and negatively affect how community groups, advocacy organizations and unions can seek to effect social change,” he said.

Of the nine pieces of written testimony submitted to the CFB by those present at the hearing and other representatives of unions and nonprofit groups, seven questioned the rule change on presumption of coordination. Alexander Rabb, an attorney, on behalf of five nonprofit organizations, wrote that “issue advocacy activities will be burdened or effectively restrained,” by the rule. The New York City District Council of Carpenters and Joiners of America stated, “The new regulations create significant uncertainty regarding the use of independent expenditures and may even lack constitutionality.”

Among the other CFB proposals were ones that simplify and clarify rules that candidates in the past have found either onerous or vague. The CFB aims to clarify the rules for hiring volunteers, allowing campaigns to employ former volunteers as paid workers but prohibiting former paid workers to become volunteers. This would prevent campaigns from skirting spending limits.

One rule would eliminate a requirement that campaigns maintain a unique merchant account for credit card contributions, which was outdated and burdensome for campaigns in the 2013 election. Another reduces filing requirements for small campaigns and aligns the definition of a small campaign with state election law.

The board also put forward changes to how public funds provided to candidates can be used. One rule would require campaign communications to explicitly state that they are “paid for by” or “authorized by” a candidate or campaign committee. The board also clarified that claims for matching funds must be reported contemporaneously with contributions or they would be ineligible, and proposed new restrictions on candidates refunding contributions if they participate in the public matching funds program.

One rule, albeit a seemingly insignificant one, would allow candidates to wear pins or buttons in photos and videos that they provide to the CFB for its voter guide. (The prohibition on the accessories was a point of conflict between the CFB and Joseph Concannon, a candidate for a Queens City Council seat last year. Even U.S. Senator Charles Schumer weighed in, saying of the rule, “This is pointy headed bureaucracy at its worst.")

The CFB will now review the feedback it received and will consider adopting the final rules, with any amendments, at its next public hearing, possibly in October. Adopted rules would then be published in the City Record and go into effect 30 days later.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Campaign Finance Board Considers Rules Changes, Including Controversial 'Coordination' Proposal Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Board of Elections to Consider Emergency Regulations for Independent Expenditures cuomo podium state of the state

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)

The State Board of Elections is set to consider a set of emergency regulations governing independent expenditure campaigns at its board meeting on Thursday morning in Albany. The regulations will come just two days after state legislative primary elections and two months before the general election. Political action committees (PACs) and Super Pacs, or independent expenditure committees, have already had a significant presence in this year’s primary contests.

The BOE is responding to new legislation championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed his controversial reform bill on August 24 after passing it through the Legislature by message of necessity in late June. The bill goes into effect 30 days after Cuomo signs it, thus putting pressure on the BOE to respond.

The law enacts restrictions on how independent expenditure campaigns operate; expands what constitutes illegal coordination with a candidate and limits who can work for Super PACs. The legislation also sets new disclosure requirements for nonprofit lobbying groups and issue advocacy groups - for this piece, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics moved on emergency regulations earlier this year.

On Thursday, the BOE will consider emergency regulations in the middle of an election season that has already seen major spending by Super PACs, especially in New York City where New Yorkers For Independent Action, a pro-charter school group, pumped millions of dollars into Democratic primary contests.

Board members have expressed concern at previous meetings that the law could be disruptive and counterintuitive given that election season is already well underway.

Democratic BOE Chair Douglas Kellner told Gotham Gazette that he isn’t convinced the board needs to act on emergency regulations. “From my point of view I’m not exactly sure why we need emergency regulations that just track the bill, but we will discuss that on Thursday,” Kellner said.

Republican BOE Chair Peter Kosinski said that the emergency regulations are necessary to keep interested parties informed of the changes to the laws relating to independent expenditures and to put the information in one place.

Once the emergency regulations are adopted the public will have 45 days to comment on them.

”The reality is that the emergency regulation idea is related to the fact that we are headed into the November election and people need information about the changes,” said Kosinski. “This does not preclude the normal regulation process or any future changes. We will go through the normal process in a couple of months.” In other words, any emergency regulations will be temporary and then re-evaluated after the election cycle.

Kellner said he also shares concerns about the timing of the bill’s enactment given that election season is already in full swing.

“The board is really between a rock and a hard place,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “If the Governor wanted the law to be in effect for the election he should have signed it in June.” It is unclear why Cuomo waited until August to sign the bill. After unveiling the plan for the legislation during a speech in New York City toward the end of the legislative session, the governor held no public ceremony to sign and promote the bill.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the BOE is being “responsible in providing necessary guidance on the law even if it is poorly written and flawed.” Dadey added that “we shouldn’t be changing the rules in the fourth quarter of the game.”

Speaking with reporters in August, Cuomo touted the new regulations. Of not getting everything he wants done on government ethics reform, he also said, “Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life. It's an ongoing pursuit.”

Kosinski, the Republican BOE chair, said that the time for fretting over the implementation timeline is over. “People have to deal with that best they can. These emergency regulations are our effort to inform people of the law so that when people look for guidance on the new laws we give them accurate information,” he said.

Advocates had decried the process by which the bill was passed. Cuomo introduced the measure late in session claiming that it was designed to beat back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for outside money in candidate campaigns. But the bill also included a section forcing non-profit advocacy groups to disclose more of their donors, and to report to the state, through JCOPE, their various communications about legislation, government officials, regulations, and government-related matters.

Like other times he has used them, Cuomo was criticized for his issuance of a message of necessity that preempts the required three-day aging process designed to encourage public review. Legislators received the bill after midnight and voted on it only a few hours later.

Cuomo, who generally controls when passed bills come to his desk for signature or veto, didn’t call the bill up from the Legislature until mid-August after facing public pressure.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is headed by former Cuomo staffer Seth Agata and is controlled by appointees of Cuomo and legislative leaders, moved on emergency regulations in early August. The part of the bill that deals with sources of funding for nonprofits goes into effect 30 days after the bill is signed.

The new law sets a definition of what is coordination between independent expenditure campaigns and candidates, and according to Kosinski the law could catch some off guard. “There were significant changes going where the state hasn’t gone before in detailing coordination, it was really fleshed out and I think people need to be aware of that going forward.”

Dadey said that he hopes there will be time for the kind of careful and nuanced discussion of the implementation of the law that was denied to the public before the bill was passed.

“I hope whatever is adopted on Thursday does not lead to greater confusion or conflict with existing law,” said Dadey. “We had no time to talk about this piece of legislation as a public, I hope more time is taken to discuss it now that it is law.”

Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York, an organization focused on government transparency, said that Albany lawmakers waited until the last minute to formulate the bill and then wasted more time signing it. “Because they dodged having a timely, open process, we’re in for another last-second “emergency” push that serves political interests and an agenda that New Yorkers didn’t ask for,” Muir said.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Board of Elections to Consider Emergency Regulations for Independent Expenditures Wed, 14 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000