A Queens candidate running to succeed former City Councilmember Rory Lancman is crying foul after the Campaign Finance Board deemed her campaign ineligible for public matching funds just three weeks before a Feb. 2 special election.
Moumita Ahmed, a longtime Jamaica resident who’s running for the District 24 seat, told THE CITY she was “outraged” by the CFB’s decision to invalidate 75 contributions of $10 and $20 made in cash, after a standard audit found paperwork irregularities, some pertaining to signatures.
A CFB official informed Ahmed’s campaign on Friday that paperwork donors are supposed to fill out appeared to have been written and signed by a single individual in dozens of instances — raising enough suspicion to disqualify the cash donations.
That left just 44 contributions — putting Ahmed’s campaign below the minimum number of 75 donations from district residents a campaign must reap to qualify for matching funds.
The Campaign Finance Board matches qualifying contributions from New York City residents with public dollars, providing $8 for every $1 for the first $250. Cash and money order contributions may be matched up to the first $100.
The CFB also noted that many of Ahmed’s donations came from the Jamaica Estates apartment building where she lives. The candidate expressed indignation that the board would question her fundraising close to home — with many of the donors hailing from Bangladesh, where she was born.
“To insinuate we acted questionably by soliciting campaign support from our neighbors is highly inappropriate and deeply insulting,” said Ahmed, 30. “That so many working-class immigrants opted to participate in New York City politics despite this ongoing pandemic and its economic devastation should be celebrated, not questioned.”
Sought: $140,000. Received: $0.
Lancman vacated the Council seat in late October to take a job offered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He left behind a district that covers parts of Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills and Jamaica.
Ahmed’s campaign raised more than $31,000 and claimed 120 donations from within the district. She had hoped to be awarded $140,000 in matching funds — putting her in line with the most successful fundraisers in the race. Instead, last Friday, the Campaign Finance Board notified her campaign by email that it would receive no money.
Ahmed still has two more chances later this month to reap the funds to help pay for her campaign, but says she is losing precious time in a tight race.
Matt Sollars, Campaign Finance Board spokesperson, said the agency “audits all campaign activity to ensure that campaigns qualify for public matching funds in accordance with the city Campaign Finance Act and Board rules.”
“Our reviews are designed to protect New York City’s investment in our elections and help maintain fairness for all candidates,” he added.
A ‘Baseless Ruling’
The Feb. 2 special election will be New York City’s first contest with ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank up to five candidates by preference.
The loss of matching funds “gravely affects” Ahmed’s campaign, said Rima Begum, the campaign’s finance liaison.
“Ranked-choice voting, this is an exciting year. Many people are able to run their campaigns as we’re seeing all throughout the city here, hundreds of people running,” Begum said. “Matching funds obviously help us compete and at this point the speed at which CFB takes action impacts us.”
Ahmed said that the “baseless ruling” seems to imply that the CFB “cannot fathom so many working-class immigrants — otherwise known as my neighbors — contributing cash in $10 and $20 increments to a Bangladeshi woman running for City Council.”
To comply with the board’s request for additional documentation, Ahmed and Begum spent the weekend visiting the homes of cash donors again, this time to seek notarized affirmations.
They had to ask contributors for sworn statements and to show ID — two additional steps that amounted to “institutional barriers for people who are the least likely to participate” in the city’s civic process, Begum said.
The experience was off-putting, said Farhana, a 43-year-old Jamaica resident who donated $10 in cash to Ahmed.
“I want to support Moumita. I don’t feel like our needs are represented at all in the City Council,” said Farhana, who asked that THE CITY not publish her last name. “Beyond that it’s a pandemic and I have a son and they had to keep coming to my house to get all these signatures for the $10 contribution.”
“I can see why people are discouraged, especially people in my position who aren’t usually involved. They just keep making us do the same thing over and over again.”
New Documents Submitted
On Monday, Ahmed’s campaign submitted notarized affidavits from 48 cash donors to the Campaign Finance Board for review.
Some of these donors had been flagged for having the same signature. Begum said that a campaign volunteer had helped some district residents, including monolingual speakers, write their names.
“We have provided the CFB with all the additional proof they demanded to prove that our neighbors support us,” Ahmed said.
“Now we are demanding they overturn this outrageous ruling immediately by providing our campaign the public matching funds we have legally earned.”