New York Daily News

Of cash and cache

- Politics · Elections · Democratic Party (United States) · Christine C. Quinn · Bill de Blasio · Common

In months be­fore the 2021 may­oral race be­gan, prospec­tive can­di­dates fell over them­selves foreswear­ing do­na­tions from cor­po­ra­tions, lob­by­ists and real es­tate ti­tans, ea­ger to prove pro­gres­sive bona fides to an en­er­gized Demo­cratic Party base.

Can­di­dates in some cases im­posed more strin­gent re­stric­tions on them­selves than al­ready-strict dona­tion lim­its set by the city’s cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem, which lim­its donors with busi­ness be­fore the city to $400 max­i­mum do­na­tions to may­oral can­di­dates. The sys­tem’s pur­pose is man­i­fold. It en­cour­ages can­di­dates to so­licit a broad ar­ray of po­ten­tial con­stituents’ sup­port for their cam­paigns but it’s also meant to curb rich donors’ abil­ity to buy fa­vors from City Hall.

This year, can­di­dates’ piety about their donors seems es­pe­cially dis­con­nected from re­al­ity, as it has for nearly 11 years run­ning, since the Supreme Court’s Cit­i­zen United de­ci­sion opened the door to un­lim­ited in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture cam­paigns to flour­ish along­side the city’s tightly reg­u­lated cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem.

The power of out­side cash — and the pro­found pow­er­less­ness of the “gold stan­dard” fi­nance sys­tem to curb it in the me­dia cap­i­tal of the world — was ev­i­dent in 2013, when one in­de­pen­dent spend­ing group un­der­wrote a cam­paign at­tack­ing may­oral fron­trun­ner Chris­tine Quinn, ul­ti­mately clear­ing Bill de Bla­sio’s path to vic­tory. It was dou­bly ev­i­dent in the re­cent Coun­cil District 24 spe­cial elec­tion, when a PAC called Com­mon Sense NYC, its big­gest donor real es­tate de­vel­oper Steve Ross, spent $221,000 in the race, in­clud­ing $100,000 for ads at­tack­ing can­di­date Moumita Ahmed as a so­cial­ist, and more on ads sup­port­ing her ri­val, former Coun­cil­man Jim Gen­naro.

No in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture spend­ing has of­fi­cially been recorded yet in the 2021 may­oral race, but such spend­ing could reach record lev­els this year, given the huge field and the high stakes for the city’s fu­ture.

Can­di­dates are ver­boten from co­or­di­nat­ing with the in­de­pen­dent spenders sup­port­ing them, but it beg­gars be­lief to think some of them won’t feel out­sized obli­ga­tion to their deep-pock­eted bene­fac­tors if they win with their help. Pay at­ten­tion, New York­ers. Fol­low the money.

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