Gotham Gazette Wed, 05 Aug 2020 14:36:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Akeem Browder, Aaron Commey & Mike Tolkin are Running for Mayor mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

October 23, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Three Candidates Running for Mayor

3 mayorsJust about two weeks ahead of Election Day, November 7, we were joined on the podcast by three of the seven mayoral candidates who will appear on the ballot. Aaron Commey (left) is the Libertarian Party nominee; Akeem Browder (right) is the Green Party nominee; and Mike Tolkin (center) is on the Smart Cities ballot line that he created to reflect his campaign theme, which is animated by his background as a tech entrepreneur.

The three candidates introduce themselves and discuss the key aspects of their policy platforms, while also assessing incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, who they each hope to unseat, and several key issues facing New Yorkers.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. The candidates are @aaron_commey and @AkeemBrowderNYC and @MikeTolkin. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Akeem Browder, Aaron Commey & Mike Tolkin are Running for Mayor Mon, 23 Oct 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
Five Democrats Will Be On The Mayoral Ballot, But Only Two Will Debate c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg large

Mayoral candidate Robert Gangi (photo:@GangiForMayor)

The first official debate in the Democratic mayoral primary is set for Wednesday, August 23, where Mayor Bill de Blasio will face former City Council Member Sal Albanese. But three more Democrats, all of whom will be on the September 12 ballot, failed to qualify for the debate and are crying foul that the Campaign Finance Board’s eligibility criteria are excluding them from participation.

For candidates to qualify for the first of two official CFB primary debates, they must have raised and spent at least $174,225, which is 2.5 percent of the $6,969,000 primary expenditure limit.

For the second “leading contenders” debate, for Democrats on September 6, a candidate must meet the fundraising and expenditure threshold as well as one of three additional criteria. These include an endorsement from a citywide, statewide or federal elected official who represents the area covered by the election; or an endorsement from a organization with 250 members; or “significant media exposure” in the 12 months before the election, defined in this case as 12 appearances in print, television, digital, or other local media.

Only de Blasio and Albanese have met the criteria for both primary debates. As of the latest filing, for mid-August, de Blasio has raised $4.8 million and spent $2.4 million, and recently received a public funds matching payment of $2.5 million, giving him $4.9 million in cash on hand. Albanese has raised just over $191,000 and spent $185,000, leaving just over $5,000 in his campaign account as of the filing. He has not yet qualified for matching funds.

Candidates who participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must appear in the debates if they qualify. For non-participants, inclusion in the debates is not guaranteed, the debate sponsors can choose to invite them.

The three other Democratic candidates on the ballot -- attorney Richard Bashner, police reform advocate Robert Gangi, and tech entrepreneur Michael Tolkin -- did not meet the threshold for the first primary debate. Both Bashner and Gangi have struggled to raise the necessary funds; Tolkin is the sole candidate of the bunch to not participate in the public funds program and would need to be invited on to the debate stage by sponsors.

Bashner, Gangi, and Tolkin are all protesting the CFB requirements and the fact that they will be on the outside looking in when de Blasio and Albanese face off. Even Albanese has criticized the requirements, which he barely met after a furious spending spree, and made an argument for a different threshold.

In the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, the debate thresholds were far lower: candidates had to raise and spend $50,000 but they also had to have received 2 percent in either a Quinnipiac University Poll or Marist Poll. Those thresholds were changed late last year through legislation passed by the City Council -- sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee -- and signed by de Blasio that increased the debate standards to the current 2.5 percent of the expenditure limit, as well as disqualifying loans or outstanding liabilities as counting towards that expenditure.

The bill was based on one of 14 recommendations by the CFB in its 2013 post-election report, which pointed out that debate thresholds had remained unchanged since 2005 while expenditure limits had increased more than 20 percent. “An increased standard, tied to the expenditure limit, is a better objective indicator of viability,” the report stated, recommending the increase.

Bashner has taken particular issue with the bill, insisting that it was a conflict for Mayor de Blasio to sign it into law since it has largely benefited him. The Brooklyn-based attorney and community board member has raised about $118,785 and spent $104,000, but $50,000 in contributions were a personal loan he made to his campaign.

In a letter to the CFB on Monday, Bashner called the bill that changed the debate law the “Incumbent Protection Act” and called on the board to allow all the mayor’s challengers to participate in the debates. At the very least, he argued, those who have met the 2013 threshold of $50,000 should be included. “Voters deserve the opportunity to hear where each of these challengers stands on the critical issues facing our city,” he wrote. “To silence the voices of these candidates is to impede democracy.”

Council Member Kallos defended the legislation, saying the CFB’s recommendation to increase the threshold was a “reasonable” one. “The piece that I found to be important was that candidates had to actually be spending money towards winning an election and that loans and liabilities wouldn’t count,” he said in a phone interview, insisting that the effect was two-fold. “Wealthy people couldn’t just write themselves a loan that they intended to pay back fully,” to get into the debates. “It also just changes it from a situation where people could loan and spend money that was illusory as opposed to raising and spending actual dollars.”

At one point, it did seem that de Blasio would commit to an open debate with his opponents. He initially seemed reluctant, insisting in a July interview on NY1, “We’re going to follow the CFB rules.” None of his opponents had qualified for the debates by then. The mayor then changed his position, saying in an August 3 tweet, “Regardless of CFB requirements, I'll be on a debate stage before the Sept 12th primary.”

Albanese criticized the mayor’s flip-flop, saying de Blasio issued the statement “when he saw that I was gonna blow past the threshold.” “I don’t find that to be a good government position, it was more of a political, expedient position,” he added.

It’s unclear if the mayor will end up debating all the candidates on the ballot. "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio's campaign, in an email.

Gangi and Tolkin have directed their ire more towards the CFB, taking turns to condemn the debate requirements and the board itself.

"The CFB's decision is a disgrace,” Tolkin said in a statement Tuesday. “It is reflective of a system virtually designed to keep non-politicians out of the election process. We are studying this decision closely and considering a range of options; however, it is clear that a comprehensive review of the CFB’s decision-making process is long overdue.”

Tolkin has taken a peculiar approach to his campaign finances, showing almost $8 million in personal in-kind contributions to his campaign, which are also counted as expenditures. But the CFB determined that those did not qualify him for the debate. Nevertheless, Tolkin challenged de Blasio to participate in three additional debates before the primary with all the Democratic candidates. “Mayor de Blasio’s unwillingness to participate in debates with the full slate of candidates is an obstruction to a fair and transparent primary process - one that he was afforded as a candidate in 2013,” he said.

For Gangi, campaign fundraising has been an even bigger challenge. He has raised only about $88,000 and spent just over $75,000. But, like Bashner, he lent his campaign a significant sum, $74,000, which would not count towards the contribution limit for the debates.

In a campaign statement on Tuesday, Gangi said the financial thresholds “are inherently unfair and undemocratic” by favoring wealthy candidates and incumbents with access to deep-pocketed donors. He was particularly incensed that he had been excluded after the CFB had issued public funds to de Blasio’s campaign partly based on a de Blasio campaign “statement of need” that pointed to Gangi as one of the mayor’s main competitors. “On what basis does the CFB then decide that de Blasio does not have to debate me?” he wondered.

“If my campaign is part of the rationale for granting the Mayor an extra [$2.5] million in tax payer [sic] matching funds, then it should have sufficient standing to earn a seat at the debate table,” he added.

CFB spokesperson Matt Sollars said in an email that the new thresholds were adopted in advance so all candidates would be aware of them. “City law sets objective, nonpartisan criteria for eligibility to participate in the citywide debates,” he said. “These criteria ensure that voters get a robust debate among candidates who have demonstrated public support.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Five Democrats Will Be On The Mayoral Ballot, But Only Two Will Debate Wed, 16 Aug 2017 02:11:01 +0000
Mayoral Candidate Provides Brands and Logos for $5 Million In-Kind Campaign Contribution tolkin ny heart you tshirts three people

A Michael Tolkin tradmarked brand

Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old entrepreneur and mayoral candidate who reported giving his own campaign a $5 million in-kind contribution – goods and services instead of cash – has provided an estimated breakdown of the highly unusual contribution’s components. Tolkin outlined what he is giving to his campaign on Tuesday, the same day he won approval from the city Board of Elections (BOE) to appear on the September 12 Democratic mayoral primary ballot.

The in-kind donation of $5 million includes, according to Tolkin, the use of two trademarked brands and logos – “NY Hearts You” and “NYC” – that are each valued at just over $1 million, estimated to bring in a collective $2.25 million in profits over a five-month period from sales of merchandise through his site that would be reintroduced into campaign-related initiatives. It also includes over $700,000 in estimated value of services that he’s providing to his own campaign -- described as “campaign strategy, policy & platform development, design & collateral development, marketing strategy, media strategy, press & communications, etc.”

After a dispute with the BOE over his party registration, Tolkin will run in the Democratic primary against incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, former City Council Member Sal Albanese, police reform activist Bob Gangi, and a few others. Tolkin faces an uphill battle. It is six weeks till primary day and he does not appear to have built much name recognition and he has not been included in any public polling. He has participated in several candidate forums, though.

Tolkin also released an animated campaign video in which he attempts to capture the thrust of his bid for the city’s highest office, apparently organized around the idea of “applying the principles of innovation and design to city hall.” The minute-and-a-half video uses animations to talk about having a “smarter” transit system and garbage collection, among other government functions. “Smarter everything,” the video declares as the end goal of a Tolkin administration.

In a conversation outside the BOE hearing room Tuesday, Tolkin said that part of his strategy with the brands and initiatives was to pilot a new model of government more heavily focused on public-private partnerships and cooperation. He also said he would “definitely run in the general election,” whether he won the Democratic primary or not. Though he said he’s working on creating a new party, he will have to run as an independent on a self-named ballot line, and he has until August 22 to present the necessary 7,500 signatures for an independent nominating petition.

The document with the in-kind contribution estimates explains that the two brand logos were valued based on “comparable brand development exercises with comparable scopes of work,” and lists the redesign of the Pepsi logo, valued at $1 million, the redesign of the BBC logo ($1.8 million), and the designs of the London Olympics and City of Melbourne logos ($625,000 each) as among comparable undertakings.

(Public reports point to the research and design of the Melbourne logo adding up to about $240,000, and for the other three the costs may include branding packages beyond the simple design and trademarking of the brand.)

tolkin ny heart you mugTolkin’s profit estimates are tied to the two trademarked logos, with branded products sold in two lines corresponding to each brand. Tolkin said these would include tangible items like t-shirts and mugs. Each line is estimated to have a net profit margin of 45% on monthly revenues of $2.5 million over five months, discounted by 80% in total to account for risk, leading to a $1.125 million estimated profit for each brand. The revenue estimate seems to be based on news reports that the famous Milton Glaser-designed “I Love New York” logo, often stylized with a heart replacing the word “love,” generates $30 million for all merchandise sales, or $2.5 million per month.

The merchandise already listed on the site includes shirts with Tolkin’s name on them, shirts with his campaign slogan “It’s a New Day,” shirts and mugs with his trademarked “NY Hearts You” logo, and shirts that say “legalize happiness,” most of which appear to not specifically relate to his campaign.

Tolkin, who grew up in Long Island, graduated with a B.S.E. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school and has inhabited the startup world, founding and advising several small companies. He moved to California at the start of last year before returning to New York early this year, setting off his dispute with the BOE.

Finally, the estimate of over $700,000 in various campaign functions performed by Tolkin is based on the amounts that de Blasio paid various consultants and service providers over the course of the 2013 campaign cycle, during a period starting in April of 2010 and continuing through mid-2013. The Tolkin campaign document states that the “the quality of our output is comparable to that of a very expensive campaign. Michael Tolkin has contributed a variety of creative and professional services for which other campaigns must pay cash.”

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Note- This article has been updated to reflect that Tolkin received a B.S.E. from the University of Pennslyvania, not a B.A. 

Mayoral Candidate Provides Brands and Logos for $5 Million In-Kind Campaign Contribution Wed, 02 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Longshot Mayoral Hopeful Outraises & Outspends Opponents, Technically reform party3

Michael Tolkin (center) at a Reform Party forum (photo:

Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old tech entrepreneur who is among over a dozen long-shot candidates running to unseat New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, appears to have outspent every other contender in the race, including the mayor, with a $5 million in-kind contribution to his own campaign.

An in-kind contribution is one in which goods or services instead of cash are given to a campaign, and in this case the entire contribution is also listed as an expenditure towards “campaign literature and assets,” according to the latest filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As such, they require an estimate of the goods’ or services’ worth.

Mayor de Blasio himself has so far raised over $4.7 million in cash, with only $570 worth of in-kind contributions, and spent over $2.2 million of it. GOP contender Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has raised just over $340,000, with $5,117 in in-kind contributions, and spent over $69,000.

Tolkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, explained in a phone interview that the contribution would manifest in the coming weeks through “a bunch of content and programming that will be self evident” and which would leverage existing assets he controls. Tolkin, a New York native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has launched several startups and also advises companies based in New York, such as virtual-room showcase website, which he founded.

He referenced one of the potential projects that would form part of his purported $5 million expenditure, a “human rights council” that he would convene in New York. He declined to provide further details about the spending.

Asked how this would relate to his campaign for mayor, Tolkin said that the programs would help promote his candidacy as well as a “better vision for New York.” He also said that he expected some of the programs to be revenue-generating, and that the revenue would be put back into the program to help develop that vision once he is elected mayor. Tolkin’s website describes his campaign as “non-ideological and apolitical,” and outlines an agenda centered on applying design and technology concepts to city governance; a campaign video refers to protecting small businesses, investing in emerging industries, and upgrading subway infrastructure, among other items.

Tolkin was similarly cryptic about the eye-popping value of his contribution, saying simply that he comes from the “startup world” and that the $5 million is a “ballpark” figure based on startup-type valuation models. Essentially, the contribution estimate appears to be based on the revenue that he expects his upcoming projects to generate.

“I’ve never heard of a campaign asset generating revenue,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, though he could not recall any specific prohibition against that. At this point, the figures on file with the agency are self-reported, and have not been audited by the CFB.

Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, said that she had never heard of anyone making an in-kind contribution of the type Tolkin was making to himself, but that might be the point; she said Tolkin’s supposed campaign initiatives could be a preview of the programs he’d want to promote as mayor.

As for the scheme’s legality, Steiner said that as long as the programs were run with “his own money, and he’s not a campaign finance [public matching funds system] participant, and as long as he’s doing this as his campaign, he’s not breaking any campaign finance laws.” In terms of the presumptive revenue from the programs, those would generally be acceptable, depending on what was done with them.

“If you thought of it as, ‘We’re going to buy a silk screen machine, we’re going to print t-shirts, we’re going to sell them, and it’s going to create revenue,’ that would be okay,” she said.

A potential advantage of Tolkin’s massive contribution is that he may be able to qualify for the CFB’s official debates ahead of the September 12 primary election. Since Tolkin is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, he would have to raise and spend at least $175,000 to qualify for the debates, a threshold that many of the candidates have struggled to meet. Even an in-kind contribution to himself might count towards this threshold.

Steiner had her doubts about that argument, saying that the threshold was “$175,000 in real money.” Debate organizers could decide to count it “but I don’t think the system is intended for that threshold to be met by Silicon Valley valuation techniques for apps, basically,” she said. The Democratic primary debates are scheduled for August 23 and September 6.

In any case, Tolkin appears to have more immediate issues: a city Board of Elections document on “campaign enrollment issues” reviewed by Gotham Gazette says that Tolkin is “not enrolled in the identified party on the petition,” the Democratic party. When presented with a copy of the document, Tolkin said in a text message, “That's incorrect and currently being resolved.” Calls to a BOE spokesperson went unanswered.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Longshot Mayoral Hopeful Outraises & Outspends Opponents, Technically Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:48:31 +0000