New York Daily News
Of cash and cache
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.