The mayoral money game

The race to be mayor of New York is in full swing, with no fewer than nine announced contenders seeking to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat. Candidates are raising millions of dollars in the hopes that New Yorkers will vote for them in the 2013 elections.

Their most recent filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board show that that’s about all they have in common. Each has been cultivating a distinct base of support unlike the others’, separated by geography and industry. Some have spent years asking for donations, while others are only now scrambling to raise the necessary cash, or are dipping in to their own pockets.

Take for instance City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has raised more money than any other candidate in the field. Quinn entered the 2013 campaign cycle with a hefty chunk of change in the bank. She raised almost $3 million for a 2009 mayoral bid, before choosing not to challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran for a third term.

Explore the Money Trail to City Hall 2013 to see how much the candidates raised, from whom and where.

Since then Quinn has done a considerable amount of fundraising, adding about $3 million more to her war chest, bringing her total to just over $6 million. According to campaign finance filings, about $600,000 of those funds are eligible to be matched through the city’s public financing system. Under the program rules, contributions up to $175 are eligible to be matched 6-to-1 if they come from individual New York City residents. A mayoral candidate can receive up to $3,534,300 in public funds, but opting into the system means adhering to strict spending limits.

Data from the Campaign Finance Board also shows that some of Quinn’s top bundlers are from the real estate industry, including Jay Kriegel from the Related Companies and Mario Palumbo from Millennium Partners. Bundlers, or “intermediaries” as the Campaign Finance Board calls them, are people who deliver donations from multiple contributors. The city requires candidates for city office to disclose the names of their bundlers — something state and federal candidates do not have to do.

Some of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s top bundlers include members of the taxi industry — donations made after de Blasio opposed Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to allow livery cabs to pick up street hails in the boroughs and upper Manhattan.

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson’s list of bundlers includes Randy Mastro, a former deputy Mayor to Rudolph Giuliani, who has raised about $60,000 for Thompson.  Supporters also include lobbyist and fomer U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato, who bundled some $48,000 for Thompson primarily from developers and people in finance. And Richard Nasti, an executive lawyer for H.J. Kalikow — the real estate firm run by former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Peter Kalikow — raised another $19,800 for the candidate.

About 20 percent of comptroller John Liu’s funds were intermediated. One of his most prominent bundlers is campaign consulant Chung Seto, who intermediated almost $65,000 for Liu.  She has also been paid about $170,000 by his campaign.

Controversy still surrounds the Liu’s campaign. Last year, its treasurer was arrested on fraud charges related to the use of straw donors; one of Liu’s top fundraisers was also faces similar charges. The comptroller has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing. 

The Democrats running for mayor have raised considerably more money than the Republican candidates. In order to make up the difference, one Republican chose not to play by the campaign finance board’s rules. George McDonald, founder of The Doe Fund, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the city does not have the right to impose strict contribution limits on candidates that do not opt into the city’s public financing system. Instead, McDonald claims that he should be allowed to adhere to the state limit, which permits individuals to donate up to $19,700 to a mayoral candidate in a primary and $41,100 for a general election. McDonald’s campaign filings show that he has already received numerous donations over the city limit of $4,950.

McDonald switched political parties before announcing his candidacy earlier this year. He is one of three mayoral hopefuls who changed parties in order to better their chances of being elected. Tom Allon, the CEO of Manhattan Media, announced that he would be running as Republican a few months after he entered the race as a Democrat. Former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion left the Democratic Party last year. Carrion, who used to oversee the Office of Urban Affairs at the White House, switched his registration to independent and is seeking to run as a Republican.

Meanwhile, supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis dropped a million dollars of his own money into his campaign. According to NY1, the owner of the Gristedes chain recently had a sit-down with former MTA chairman Joe Lhota, during which Catsimatidis told Lhota that he would be willing to put more of his own money into his campaign.

The next filing date for candidates is in March. By then, we’re likely to see fundraising data from Lhota, who officially declared his candidacy last week.

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