Mayoral candidate Eric Adams notched another $1.3 million in taxpayer-footed public matching funds Thursday — but the latest campaign finance numbers show how his top female primary rivals gave him a run for his money.
The five men among the top eight Democratic candidates outpaced the women in garnering the support of super PACs — a.k.a. independent expenditure groups — by a margin of more than 13-to-one, an analysis by THE CITY found. And they beat the women by about six-to-one in private fundraising.
But the women in the race effectively used the public funding system to bring two of them — Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley — close to making history in a city that’s never elected a female mayor, figures from the city Campaign Finance Board show.
“If you didn’t have the public financing system, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley might not have been able to be viable at all,” said Lawrence Norden, director of election reform at the Brennan Center for Justice.
The $112 million in public funds distributed to all candidates in all races so far this year — and $39.2 million to mayoral hopefuls for the primary — tended to help women running for office in particular. Among them: More than two dozen mostly first-time candidates poised to give the City Council its first-ever female majority.
‘Helping All the Candidates’
Meanwhile, the $1.3 million awarded Thursday to Adams for his general election race against Republican Curtis Sliwa represents more than a third of the over $3.1 million in new public funds the board approved for 56 candidates.
Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president, clinched the Democratic nomination last week after beating former Sanitation Commissioner Garcia by less than one percentage point, or about 7,000 votes.
Wiley, a civil rights lawyer, finished about 12,000 votes behind Garcia before being eliminated in the ranked choice voting roll-up. Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, finished sixth before being eliminated in the ranked choice rounds.
Ranked choice voting has been credited with encouraging more — and more diverse candidates — to run. But the city’s public matching system, which offers qualifying candidates $8 for every $1 raised, has made certain candidates viable beyond their access to big bucks donors and appeal to super PACs.
“Much has been made of the role of independent expenditures played in this election. However, the support provided to candidates through the campaign finance program surpassed the amount spent by the outside groups, helping all the candidates who qualified get their story and vision for the city out to voters,” Frederick Schaffer, the CFB’s chair, said Thursday.
‘She Never Fundraised Before’
Of the more than $30.6 million spent by outside groups to boost the leading eight mayoral candidates, almost 93% supported the five leading male candidates, compared to just 7% helping Garcia, Wiley and Morales, according to CFB data, which includes spending through July 11.
Of the women, Wiley saw the most outside spending on her behalf: nearly $2 million. That money was about half as much as the lowest amount outside groups spent on a male candidate: the $3.8 million aimed at helping fourth-place finisher Andrew Yang.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates but are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns.
The campaigns of the three leading female candidates also raised less money in private funds than the five leading male candidates, among them city Comptroller Scott Stringer, former HUD boss Shaun Donovan and Wall Street executive Ray McGuire.
The campaigns of the five men accounted for almost 86% of the $33 million the eight contenders raised, while the campaigns of the women took in about 14% of those private dollars, according to CFB data that shows figures through June 7.
Despite differences in spending by independent expenditures and in private fundraising, the matching bucks the candidates reaped helped put them on a more even playing field. Adams, Yang, Garcia and Stringer all took in over $6.4 million in public funds, with Garcia benefitting the most. Wiley earned $5.4 million in public funds, while Morales got $3.9 million.
“Matching funds was 100% how we got as far as we did,” said Nicole Migliore, Garcia’s deputy campaign manager. “She had not ever fundraised before. She didn’t have a list of folks that she’s been asking for money from. She didn’t raise any money at all until she left sanitation.”
In the beginning, Garcia’s staff had to instruct her to actually ask for money on fundraising calls. But after The New York Times endorsed her, getting donor dollars “became a lot easier,” Migliore said.
The challenges Garcia, Wiley and Morales faced with fundraising and campaign finance aren’t new.
“Although I don’t want to take anything away from Eric Adams, who ran a sensational race, there’s no question about it: Men have more access to money than women,” said Christine Quinn, a former City Council speaker who ran for mayor in the 2013 Democratic primary.
“This race just proved that again, even a New York Times–endorsed woman had less access to money than then Eric Adams, even a woman [Wiley] endorsed by the largest labor union, 1199SEIU, had less access to money,” she added.
Prior to this year, Quinn was the only candidate for citywide office to qualify for a maximum public funds payment, before losing the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary to then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
She recalled facing sexism and homophobia during her run. Her candidacy came under attack by an independent expenditure group called New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS, whose $1 million in spending in part sank her campaign. (The founders of NYCLASS this year helped fund another group, New York Deserves Better PAC, which released an ad opposing Yang.)
“I don’t think there’s anything fundamental about money in politics that disadvantages women,” said Kira Sanbonmatsu, a political science professor at Rutgers University and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. She noted that women have outraised men in other contests, and incumbents have an easier time generating contributions than challengers.
But the main obstacle, Sanbonmatsu said, is for women to attract early support, which is difficult because women — especially women of color — don’t have the same personal wealth and connections men do, setting them up for a Catch-22.
“If you’re not seen as viable, you won’t get financial support. If you don’t get financial support, you’re not seen as viable,” Sanbonmatsu said.
The assessment rang true for Ruth Messinger, who became the first woman to win the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1997 before losing to Mayor Rudy Guiliani.
“It was particularly hard to raise money for mayor because the most traditional donors who are used to giving to campaigns and who might even have liked me or liked my politics don’t tend to see women as chief executives,” said Messinger, a former City Council member and Manhattan borough president.
Adams and Yang were historic candidates in their own right: Adams would become the city’s second Black mayor if he wins the general election, and Yang could’ve been the city’s first Asian-American mayor. But both benefited from wide name recognition, thanks to Adams’ career in politics and Yang’s failed presidential run.
Independent spending can indicate who is perceived to be leading in a race. Norden of the Brennan Center pointed out “a correlation between who the money thinks is going to win and where the money goes.”
The shifting dynamics in the race changed the stakes and may have influenced independent spending.
Progressive support — including the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, The Bronx) — consolidated around Wiley after the campaigns of fellow progressive contenders were derailed: Stringer was accused of sexual misconduct, which he denied, and Morales’ campaign staff imploded. The Amplify Her PAC, Our City and 1199 for Maya threw their support behind Wiley.
Garcia, who benefitted from a late alliance with Yang, didn’t see independent spending on her behalf until just over a week before Primary Day. New Generation of Leadership PAC, led by political consultant and one-time City Council candidate Ronnie Cho, raised $306,000 in under a month to pay for digital ads to support Garcia.
“I thought, surely someone who’s more well-connected when it comes to the financial backing than me is thinking about doing this,” Cho said of the effort. “She’s obviously compelling, she got The New York Times’ endorsement, momentum’s on her side at this point, and it just never happened.”
Money Doesn’t Always Talk
The results of the race showed the limits of big money.
Despite deep-pocketed donors contributing to their campaign and spending on their behalf as part of super PACs, McGuire and Donovan finished in seventh and eighth place, respectively, before being eliminated in ranked choice rounds.
“McGuire and Donovan, as first time candidates, were definitely at a deficit in more ways than say, Kathryn and Maya,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “They know what it looks like with Bill de Blasio.”
Nearly $6.5 million was spent on Donovan’s behalf thanks to New Start NYC, a super PAC funded mostly by his father, which at one point nearly jeopardized the candidate’s public funds. The super PAC New York for Ray spent over $5.7 million to support McGuire.
How much a candidate receives in matching funds depends on the number of qualifying small contributions they’re able to raise.
Although Donovan raised almost double compared to Morales in private funds, he raked in about half in public funds: about $2 million compared to Morales’ $3.9 million. McGuire opted out of participating in the matching program, but raised the most in private funds out of all the mayoral candidates: nearly $12 million.
“It’s hard to know, but if all of the organizations and donors thought that women were going to be equally viable with men, would we have seen a different race throughout?” asked Sanbonmatsu.
“Would we’ve seen different patterns in terms of fundraising totals, standing in the polls? I think towards the end of the primary, the women candidates gained steam.”