Gotham Gazette Fri, 14 Aug 2020 08:32:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 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

Read more by this writer.

Longshot Mayoral Hopeful Outraises & Outspends Opponents, Technically Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:48:31 +0000
Filing, Tracking City & State Campaign Finance Data Will Become Easier BOE-CFB

NYS BOE, left, NYC CFB, right

Officials from the New York State Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board outlined plans for overhauling their respective financial disclosure tools on Friday.

Though both groups said they wanted to make it easier for campaign staff to file reports and for the public to access filings, a divide was clear between the state BOE and the city CFB in terms of current capabilities and goals. Some of BOE's planned features, such as error-checking and bulk data export, for example, are already present on CFB's platform.

Thomas Connolly, BOE's deputy director of public communications, said the board plans to roll out new finance and tracking systems by early 2017, replacing the current 1990s-era software. "Our goal is to create a state-of-the-art candidate tracking and campaign finance system that is open and transparent," he said to the audience of around 50 at Civic Hall in Gramercy. The event was co-hosted by good government group Reinvent Albany, which often scrutinizes campaign finance data and calls for significant reforms.

Currently, the state BOE operates separate and unintegrated candidate tracking and campaign finance systems—"both old enough to vote," Connolly quipped—that require a lot of manual input. BOE's new systems would integrate the two sides on the web, instead of the current desktop software. Campaign staff will file disclosures on a website—instead of using desktop software—which would also warn users if they enter incomplete or invalid information. The public-facing website will also feature more advanced search and data-export functions than currently available.

Some are disappointed that the BOE will not have its new systems up and running for the 2016 election cycle, during which all of the state legislature is on the ballot again.

In response to multiple questions from audience members about whether or not campaign contributors will be assigned unique IDs in the system - which would allow users to see where else a donor has given, Connolly said that he doesn't foresee that being implemented. He pointed to the difficulties posed by misspelled names, different people with similar names, and inconsistent abbreviations. The new filing system will, however, feature autofill to help minimize those errors.

"Our goal is that we'd rather get you flawed data than no data," Connolly said.

Though the city CFB's filing system, C-SMART, was also created in the 1990s, it has since been updated to run on the web and includes many of the features that the state BOE is eyeing. As campaign staff enter contributor data, they receive prompts and warnings if entries are invalid, incomplete, or ineligible for CFB's public matching funds program. Addresses within New York City are checked against Department of City Planning records.

(The state is at the very beginning stages of toying with a similar public matching funds program, but even a pilot has struggled to get off the ground.)

CFB spokesperson Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs, said Friday that the board constantly improves its systems because it's required to do so after every election cycle. Some of CFB's upcoming developments Friedman mentioned will address a city law passed last year that requires independent committees to disclose donor information, showing which committees supported which candidates. 2013 was the first city election cycle in the post-Citizens United world, in which independent expenditures were a significant force in city campaigns. The CFB is making its updates leading up to the city's 2017 cycle, while also adapting to new legal requirements.

Other CFB developments are primarily aimed at simplifying and improving the reporting process for campaign staff. One tool, for example, would allow campaigns to directly transfer contributor data from online donations into C-SMART. "A lot of compliance logic is built into it," Friedman said. "So campaigns have a lot of data to ensure their data is compliant."

Still, officials from both boards said that some features requested by good-government groups, like unique contributor IDs and contributors' professional affiliations, will have to be first answered with legislation. And they added that while individual campaigns can and do correct contributor data, there is little that can be done on the software side to resolve issues like false or misspelled names and addresses.

"The requirements of what the contributor is required to disclose is a matter of statues," Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the state BOE, said in response to a question about obtaining more data on contributors, including voter registration status. "I don't think either the Campaign Finance Board or the State Board of Elections has authority to go beyond those disclosure requirements in their regulations."

"It's always going to be up to the candidate or the treasurer to update or modify their data," said Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at CFB.

[Read more about the state BOE, city CFB & their roles here]

by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette

Filing, Tracking City & State Campaign Finance Data Will Become Easier Fri, 20 Nov 2015 22:06:14 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 6 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Don't expect to see much action from the biggest political players this week. Mayor Bill de Blasio may have launched a salvo against Governor Andrew Cuomo before leaving for vacation last week but the Mayor remains somewhere in the "Southwestern and Western United States" according to his official schedule. De Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and their children Chiara and Dante are scheduled to return to the city on Wednesday. In the meantime day-to-day operations will be carried through by First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. 

Meanwhile, Cuomo appears to be quietly recovering from a particularly nasty legislative year that saw him suffer both personal and political hardship. He did travel to Long Island this weekend to officiate the wedding of rocker Billy Joel and his girlfriend Alexis Roderick. Cuomo's official schedule puts him in New York City today. 

Don't fret about de Blasio and Cuomo's relationship - therapists tell the Daily News there is a chance they can work things out. 

Not everyone has the day off Monday. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is set to tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Baldwinsville. 

And David Sweat, the surviving member of the pair of inmates who broke out of an upstate prison causing a massive manhunt and media firestorm, has officially returned to prison after recovering from two gunshots to his torso at Albany Medical Center. Senate Republicans are chomping at the bit to hold hearings on prison funding and security. Expect them to hold the issue over Cuomo and Democrats who back prison reforms. 

It's a slow week coming off the holiday weekend, but there are several items to be aware of, read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:


The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a Compliance & C-SMART training session for the 2017 election cycle at 1pm Tuesday. "Compliance trainings cover campaign finance laws and CFB rules. C-SMART trainings provide an overview of the CFB's web-based application, which campaigns must use to manage and disclose financial activity. The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training." For more information and to RSVP

There will be a double symposium on race and law enforcement on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and on Thursday, July 16 at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, among others, Susan Herman, Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing for the NYPD, will be attending.

On Tuesday there will be "A Young Professionals Fundraiser" for Public Advocate, Letitia James at 6;30 p.m. Congress Member Yvette Clarke will be a featured speaker and special invited guests include State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; Assembly members Annette Robinson, Rodneyse Bichotte, Diana Richardson, Latrice Walker and Council member Laurie Cumbo.

At 6:30 p.m. there will be a Brooklyn Borough Board Meeting hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

At 9:30 a.m. the Department of Consumer Affairs will be hosting an "Open House Training Series: NYC's Paid Sick Leave Law."

The Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Housing Authority will host a series of town hall meetings to discuss the recently released NYCHA Next Generation Plan. There will be a town hall meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Hunter College School of Social Work.

At 2 p.m. there will be access to free legal services for "Foreclosure Intervention/Prevention" provided through a partnership between Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. This occurs every second Wednesday of every month.

The de Blasio family will be returning from their vacation today.

At 2 p.m. there will be access to free legal services for "Housing and Elder Law, and Pension matters" provided through a partnership between Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the Brooklyn Branch of Legal Services NYC. This occurs every second and fourth Thursday of every month.

At 3 p.m. Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson will partake in a Q&A as part of the "Newsmakers Series 2015" at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. 

Friday and the weekend
Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. there will be a celebration hosted at Hunter College for Carl Heastie, the first African American Assembly Speaker of New York State. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Democratic Conference Leader; John Flanagan, Senate Majority Leader; Joseph D. Morelle, Assembly Majority Leader, and numerous others are part of the host committee attending.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Erika Wang and David King

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 6 Wed, 01 Jul 2015 21:55:01 +0000
For 'A Better New York,' Activists Lobby Albany for Election Reform nyc votes Albany

Activists in Albany (photo: @NYCVotes)

On a crisp Wednesday morning, two buses pulled up outside the New York State Capitol in Albany. Their cargo: a delegation of about 100 students, volunteers, and good government activists who travelled from New York City to advocate for voting reform.

It was the second annual "Vote Better NY" Advocacy Day for Election Reform organized by NYC Votes, a non-partisan voter engagement initiative run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and its Voter Assistance Advisory Committee.

The delegation left the city at 6 a.m. with the carefully defined objective of pushing state Senators and Assembly members on three voting issues: online voter registration, better ballot design, and early voting.

Splitting into groups of five or six, activists worked the halls of the Capitol and the legislative office building, participating in back-to-back pre-arranged meetings with legislative staff or legislators themselves.

Preparing for its first meeting, one group circled around their leader Onida Coward Mayers, the director of voter assistance at the CFB. "We're not lobbyists," Mayers said in her short pep talk. "You are an individual, a member of the public, and we all want the same thing. We're thanking [our representatives] for their work, but they need to do more. We're holding their feet to the fire."

NYC Votes' advocacy day comes at a time when the Legislature is just getting back to work, filling the vacuum after the budget session. "Everything is budget here till April 1. The budget kinda sucked the oxygen out of the air," said Bryan Clenahan, counsel to Senator Diane Savino, as he addressed the Mayer-led group of activists, which included members of Dominicanos USA, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP.

The Legislature is in session through mid-June, with lawmakers in Albany a few days most weeks until then. There are many issues on the table that were left out of the budget, including minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and mayoral control of schools, but advocates wanted to make sure that election reform is also part of the discussion.

Advocacy day was an opportunity for many of the advocates to meet their representatives and express their priorities directly. Rob Reynolds, 28, works in tax preparation in Brooklyn. He was one of many independent members of the public, not affiliated with any organization, who joined NYC Votes for Wednesday's trip. "The day was very productive," he said. "We met with a lot of legislators. We shared with them our thoughts and ideas for improving the electoral process in New York. A lot of them seemed very receptive and seemed supportive of our ideas."

Reynolds believes wholeheartedly that New York needs to improve its voter turnout, especially by taking lessons from other states that have a better record. For him, the day was an exciting opportunity to be heard. But it was not without its disappointments, particularly an Assembly member who Reynolds did not want to name publicly, but said was more interested in his own election efforts than expanding the democratic process. "There is an inherent problem when the people who we elect get to choose who elects them and its not right," said Reynolds. "Its not morally fair - in a democracy that's not how it should work."

The numbers in yesterday's delegation are an indicator of an increasing consciousness among New Yorkers that reforming the voting process is necessary, particularly considering that New York hit the historically low point of 28.8 percent voter turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

"Last year we brought 50 people, everyday average New Yorkers to talk about [voting reform]," said Matt Sollars, press secretary at CFB. "This year we brought 100 people and next year we'll bring 200 people, and we're gonna keep bringing more people up here to talk about this until we see real change and we see real modern elections in New York state."

The groups navigated the cavernous halls of the Capitol, even attending meetings with representatives of legislative leaders Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein.

Through the day, the activists tried to get legislators on board with specific bills. One bill provides for online voter registration through the Board of Elections. Currently, New Yorkers can only register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The advocates also asked legislators to support the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, which improves ballot design.

Although there was no specific bill on the agenda for early voting, some of the activists were surprised to learn in a meeting with Senator Tony Avella that he had introduced a proposal for weekend voting.

"There was almost unanimous agreement among all the legislators that we met that voting was a top priority and that they were in favor of greater transparency and access to the voting process in principle, but they wanted to read the bills that were at issue," said Bridgette Ahn, president-elect of the Korean American Lawyers Association. "I think an important component of this is establishing a relationship, raising awareness, bringing the information to key decision-makers, following up with them, and continuing on the advocacy front."

At the end of the day, NYC Votes had made its mark. The delegation was recognized both in the Assembly and Senate sessions for its work in promoting voting reform. "We do know the politics still plays after we leave their four walls," Onida Coward Mayers said with cautious optimism. "I'm very proud of the message that we sent that we will be heard," she said. "There needs to be election reform, citizens matter and citizens want change. [New Yorkers] want an easier, friendly, 21st century democracy." 

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

For 'A Better New York,' Activists Lobby Albany for Election Reform Thu, 23 Apr 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Mail Your Vote, Then Track It? kallos vision zero

CM Kallos at a recent press conference on traffic safety (photo: @BenKallos)

NEW YORK - There is a voter turnout crisis in this country, this state, and this city. Causes abound, including mistrust of politicians and barriers to easy voting. As elected officials, advocates, and experts look for solutions, some argue an inefficient system handling absentee ballots has caused thousands of New Yorkers to miss the opportunity to cast their votes.

"We received numerous calls from frustrated voters who had not received their absentee ballot and had no way of finding out where in the process their application was," said Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, an advocacy organization that promotes civic engagement.

Voter participation has been steadily declining for decades, and continues to find shocking new lows. Last November, New York was the fifth worse state in the country for voter participation, with a staggering 29.5 percent turnout. In New York City, the turnout was just above 21 percent.

"In this age of devastatingly low voter confidence in our elections," said George, "making voting easy and convenient for citizens is of critical importance."

Now, two bills introduced by members of the New York City Council aim to do just that.

Tuesday morning, the Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, a Democrat from Manhattan, discussed two new pieces of legislation that could help re-engage thousands of voters in the election process.

"We want every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot," Kallos told Gotham Gazette. "Absentee ballots are essential to maximizing turnout."

Currently, a voter who wishes to cast an absentee ballot has to follow a three-step process: register to vote; request an absentee ballot; vote.

Right now, it's impossible for voters to complete the first two steps at the same time.

One of the Council's proposed bills, however, would allow New York City residents to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot together, eliminating the usual time that slows the voting process.

The second bill, meanwhile, would require the Board of Elections to provide a website through which voters can track their absentee ballots in every step of the process.

By accessing the website, voters would know whether their application for an absentee ballot has been received, and whether it has been approved. Then, it would be possible to check if an absentee ballot has been mailed and delivered. After completing an absentee vote, New Yorkers would be able to check if their completed ballot has made it back to the Board of Election and, finally, if it has been counted.

Amy Loprest, executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, said in her testimony that technology already exists allowing the U.S. Postal Service to track the absentee ballots of members of the military and citizens living overseas.

A handful of states including Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia already have set up a similar technology to track the absentee ballots of domestic voters as well.

"We can all track our packages online, and we should be able to track our votes in the same way," said Loprest, who spoke emphatically in favor of the bill.

"This legislation provides an opportunity for New York City to be a local leader in the use of technology to boost confidence in our elections," she added.

It is still not clear how much the City will have to spend to implement the tracking system.

Seth Flaxman, the founder and executive director of Democracy Works, a nonprofit organization that could be contracted to get the new Board of Election website up and running, said a ballot tracking feature would be easy and quite inexpensive to put in place.

"We wanted to ensure that good election technology would always be affordable for the government," said Flaxman. "It will cost what will be affordable to New York City."

Beside the costs involved in improving the absentee voting system, voters' participation seems to be a concern that goes deeper than partisan distinction.

"The idea that we have a voter turnout crisis transcends parties," said Paul Westrick, legislative aide to Kallos. "This is something that helps people across the city, across the party lines."

The bills may be tweaked and then, possibly, voted on at a governmental operations committee meeting in the near future. Each has just a few sponsors, but that does not necessarily fully measure support. If passed by the committee, they would head to the full Council.

by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette

Mail Your Vote, Then Track It? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:52:23 +0000