Money in Politics in NY: Aug. 30 Edition

August 30, 2013

Reposted with permission from The Brennan Center. Money in Politics is a series which regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics — and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.

Op-ed by Susan Lerner Asks NYC Council to Support Disclosure
An op-ed by Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY,appeared in the Daily News this Wednesday asking the New York City Council to bring greater transparency to the city elections process. New York City voters this year are facing a plethora of advertisements and mailings from outside special interests hoping to swing the upcoming elections in their favor. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, corporations and unions are free to spend unlimited amounts of funds garnered from mega donations to boost their preferred candidates. For example, Jobs for New York, a group representing real estate interests, has spent $167,341 in support of Sara Gonzalez’s run for the 38th City Council district – an amount two times greater than what Gonzalez has spent herself. Jobs for New York has received more than $6 million from 116 limited-liability corporations – which were in turn used to funnel money from just 22 backers. Common Cause/NY is urging the City Council to pass legislation introduced by City Councilman Brad Lander which would require city campaign ads paid for by independent expenditures to list the top five contributors on the ad itself. “Independent expenditures unfairly color the campaign process by dominating the conversation with the point of view of a particular interest… First and foremost, voters need to know who is sponsoring the advertising they receive,” Lerner said.

Hedge Fund Donations to NYC Elections Pale in Comparison to State Contributions
Hedge funds have donated $500,000 to New York City races thus far. A significant portion, $170,336 has gone to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign. The next closest recipient, Republican candidate Joseph Lhota, has received $47,625 from hedge funds. The $500,000 figure is small in comprasion New York State elections, where hedge funds – donating upwards of $7 million in the 2010 election cycle – are now the second-largest contributors after the real estate industry. The difference is largely due to New York City’s contribution limits, which are far lower than the state’s. James S. Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates, who has not made any contributions in 2013 New York City races, explains that “limits are a big aspect to it, and I think people would give more if the limits were higher. At the federal and state level, we are constantly being called [about donations].” No one calls for contributions at the city level, he added.

Thompson’s Campaign Strategist Alleges Campaign Finance Misconduct by Rival de Blasio
New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson’s campaign strategist, Jonathan Prince, has filed a complaint with the city Campaign Finance Board seeking an investigation into fundraising events held for Democratic rival Bill de Blasio. De Blasio held fundraisers at the Villa Pacri restaurant in the Meatpacking district last year. The restaurant charged the de Blasio campaign $4,349.53 for drinks and appetizers for 75 people at the two events last year. The per-person per-hour rate amounts to $22.50, but a different group of the same size was charged $58.33 per-person per-hour just two days later. The complaint alleges that the difference between the “fair market value and the $22.50-per-person cost” is an in-kind campaign contribution. The campaign finance law iterates that candidates must pay fair market prices for campaign goods and services. De Blasio’s campaign dismisses the charge, saying that the price difference was due to differences in what the groups were served.