After taking in more than $134,000 in public matching funds, Moumita Ahmed received about 15 percent of the vote and finished a distant second in a February special election for Council District 24. Earlier this month, she received another $52,569 in taxpayer cash as she runs in the June primary.
In the process, Ahmed’s campaign has emerged as something of an avatar for opposition to the city’s current public matching funds system, which has so far poured $26,657,242 into candidates’ campaign accounts, with primary day still two months away.
“We really need to reevaluate the prudence of spending public funds at these rates for what I believe are vanity projects,” said political strategist Patrick Jenkins.
Jenkins specifically questioned candidates who receive matching funds and spend a significant amount of money on out-of-state consultants. Ahmed, for example, paid a South Carolina-based consulting firm more than $95,000 leading up to the special.
“There should be some kinds of procurement rules,” Jenkins said.
This year’s council candidates are eligible for matching funds if they receive 75 contributions of between $10 and $1,000 from people who live in the districts they hope to represent. The first $175 of those qualifying contributions are eligible for an eight-to-one match, meaning a $10 contribution from a would-be constituent is worth $90.
The program is intended to incentivize small-dollar contributions from everyday New Yorkers, rather than the wealthy or influential special interests.
But critics say some candidates are exploiting the program to raise their own profiles in quixotic quests for public office.
“For $52,569 this city can pay for a voucher to house a family of four for two years, Instead it’s doling out matching funds to candidates who get more Twitter likes then votes and claim there’s a conspiracy to stop them,” tweeted Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program after Ahmed shared news about her latest matching funds haul.
Candidate Shaun Donovan’s long-shot bid to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio next year got a financial shot in the arm Thursday when the Campaign Finance Board voted to award nearly $1.5 million in public matching funds after receiving sworn statements that a super PAC bankrolled by his dad was not coordinating with his campaign.
Last week, the CFB withheld matching funds to Donovan after saying it was investigating the relationship between the campaign and an independent group seeking to boost the former Bloomberg and Obama insider’s flagging bid for City Hall.
Campaigns are barred from coordinating with outside groups.
Donovan’s father, Michael Donovan, donated $2 million to the pro-Donovan New Start NYC Super Pac.
Donovan served as housing director to former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and later served in the Obama Administration, first as housing secretary and then as budget director.
The CFB said Thursday it had received sworn affidavits from both Shaun and Michael Donovan assuring that there was no coordination between the campaign and the independent expenditure group, which is nearly entirely bankrolled by the candidate’s dad to aid his campaign.
“After reviewing additional information, including statements from Shaun and Michael Donovan, the Board voted to approve a public funds payment to the New Yorkers for Donovan campaign today. The campaign will be subject to an ongoing, post-election audit, just like all campaigns in this election,”. said CFB chairman Frederick Schaffer.
This is total chaos. It's asinine that this money is being used during a pandemic.