Mysterious money

Updated with Thompson campaign statement

Who are Merryl Tisch and Michael Milstein? Most city politicians could quickly identify the former as the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, while the latter is the son of real estate titan Howard Milstein.

Apparently, though, Bill Thompson can’t, even though each has donated nearly $5,000 to his campaign.

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

Campaign fundraising filings by the mayoral candidate have left out data on the occupations, employers or addresses of the sources of more than $450,000 of his funds — Tisch and Milstein among them — even though the information is required by law. That’s more than 15 percent of all the money Thompson has raised for his mayoral bid — the most of any of the four biggest-raising Democratic candidates.

We came across the omissions while updating The Money Trail to City Hall, the New York World’s guide to fundraising by the mayoral candidates. Now expanded to nine contenders, with funds raised through March 15, it includes a list of the employers associated with the most funds donated. In Thompson’s case, employees of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher gave more to the candidate than those of any other firm — as far as we know.

The missing information comes with potential consequences. If candidates don’t fill in the missing details, they will lose public matching funds, under a program that grants money to mayoral hopefuls at the generous rate of six-to-one. The first $175 of any donation from a New York City resident qualifies for matching.

Thompson’s campaign will be deprived of some $200,000 unless he goes back and completes his filings — which is permissible, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“It’s an incentive for the candidates to fully disclose campaign finance information to the public,” said board spokesperson Matt Sollars. “If they’re going to fix their disclosures, then that’s for the good.”

Altogether, the city’s four leading Democratic candidates have left out required information for the sources of more than $1,000,000 in contributions — which could cost them upwards of $400,000 in matching funds.

The Thompson campaign omitted donor information for some 18 percent of its funds, well ahead of Bill de Blasio’s, at roughly 8 percent. John Liu — whose sources of donations are under scrutiny — left out required information for some 6 percent of his contributions, while Christine Quinn was missing it for only 1 percent.

A Thompson spokesperson says the campaign is doing its best to comply. “We always encourage donors to supply us with the necessary personal information when a donation is made,” she said. “However, if a contribution is received without the required information, we make every effort to obtain those details as quickly as possible. We are continuing to update our disclosure statements to ensure that all necessary information is reported. We received a large volume of mail-in contributions, including a lot of small dollar contributions, that came without forms and we are aggressively tracking down details.”

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson speaks at the Lexington Democratic Club in Manhattan in February, joined by Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Photo: Heather Martino

The disclosure of the occupation and employer information is crucial so that voters can know who’s backing campaigns, according to Gene Russianoff, a senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“They say ‘you are what you eat,’ and it’s equally true ‘You are who you’re funded by,’” Russianoff said. The extent of Thompson’s omissions, he said, was “surprising,” adding that they show “either sloppiness in administering their campaign, or insufficient attention to the value of disclosing the information to the public.”

Russianoff said he expected that Thompson’s campaign would ultimately update its filings so that it doesn’t lose its matching funds.

“This is why the CFB is as popular with political candidates as the IRS is with the public,” he said. “They actually enforce the law.”

Amendments to the candidates’ filings are permitted even after the end of an election, according to Sollars. But Russianoff said he hoped that they would come well before November, “so that people know when they vote.”

Additional reporting by Beth Morrissey.

Data Tools


Our work has appeared in…

About TNYW

The New York World focuses on producing data-driven investigative projects.