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GOVERNMENT

Carl Heastie's Campaign Account Expenditures: The Full Picture


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Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: AP/Mike Groll)


Carl Heastie's campaign committee has drawn some attention to its expenditures, especially now that he is the newly minted Assembly Speaker. Below is an analysis of his campaign spending based on the Board of Elections expenditure "Purpose" codes that the campaign itself elects to use. Purpose codes are selected from a list by filers to describe their own activity, and are accompanied by "explanations" where applicable. From 2011 through 2014, "Friends of Carl E. Heastie," as the campaign committee is known, reported spending $429,526.95. Remarkably, the largest subsection of expenditure is "Other," at $164,275.59; followed by "Political Contributions" at $114,113.00; and "Reimbursements" at $87,538.01.

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When combining the codes for Campaign Mailings, Consultants, Fundraising, Office Expenses, Petition Expenses, Postage, Print Ads, and Professional Services, a tally for expenses that are explicitly coded as campaign expenses is reached. That is, the money is clearly, unambiguously spent on campaign activity. Perhaps generously, it also makes some sense to include Office expenses in this area. Expenses not explicitly coded as direct campaign expenditures include Political Contributions (made out to other campaign committees), Constituent Services, Other, Reimbursements. Below is the breakdown of Heastie's spending to clearly show how much is explicitly coded as direct campaign expenditure versus not. Again, the total is $429,526.95 for 2011-2014. Here we see that about $49,000 is coded explicitly as campaign expenses, which is about 11 percent. The other 89 percent is not explicitly coded as campaign expense - though a sizeable sum within this amount appears to have been charged to the campaign credit card for a variety of expenditures, which we detail below.

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Heastie's campaign is known to be particularly lavish with an American Express credit card. Below is an analysis of Friends of Carl E. Heastie's credit card activity.

When reporting credit card expenditures, campaigns are advised by the Board of Elections to note the expenditure in full to the creditor (e.g. AMEX), and where applicable to itemize purchases with a sum of $0.00 but then to describe the merchant and cost as a memo in the Explanation line. In this respect, first, a look at the transactions paid to American Express. Then details of what Friends of Carl E. Heastie says it bought on the card.

From January, 2011 through December, 2014:

  • $295,560.44 paid to American Express. (Heastie's treasurer describes payments of his American Express bill 7 different ways)
  • $532.15 is specifically described as interest paid to American Express.
  • $15,418.73 of his American Express payments are described as "Unitemized."

The monthly payments:

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Assessing all of the itemized transactions (with their distinctive amount of $0.00) we extract the itemized dollar cost from the memo line. This includes wading through verbiage like "$78.38 FRUIT BASKET PURCHASE" and "MEMO: $53.30 DINNER FOR VOLUNTEERS" to extract figures like $78.38 and $53.30 so as to sort out large purchases from small.

Standouts 2011-2014:

  • $5,839.82 to INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL in 3 transactions on on 11/12/2013 related to the SOMOS conference.
  • $3,533.54 at the Apple Store.
  • $1,914.19 spent at PRIME PLAZA on 03/18/2014 is described in the Memo as a "Fundraising expense," which shows how paying for so much of a campaign on a credit card creates conflicts in how best to file expenditures - this could easily be clear as a campaign expense, but by charging it and including it with reimbursements, it becomes less clear. Fundraising expenditures of similar size at other venues are similarly buried in Friends of Carl E. Heastie's credit card register.

Top Ten Purchases by Size:

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The following transactions are not adequately described in the Explanation memo so as to directly ascertain their cost:

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by Jon Reznick for Gotham Gazette
Data analysis performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC



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