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NYC Mayoral Candidate Shaun Donovan Faces Public Funding Review Over Dad-Backed PAC

Mayoral Candidate Shaun Donovan gathers signatures in Downtown Brooklyn to get on the ballot, March 2, 2021.
Mayoral Candidate Shaun Donovan gathers signatures in Downtown Brooklyn to get on the ballot, March 2, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Democratic mayoral hopeful Shaun Donovan took a double hit on some key numbers Thursday as the primary campaign headed into its final 10 weeks.

The former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn’t get any matching funds from the city — at least not yet. And he ended up in the second-to-last ballot position out of the 12 Democratic mayoral candidates to make the cut.

The city Campaign Finance Board on Thursday rained more than $10 million in matching funds on six of the Democratic mayoral candidates. But the board opted to wait on giving any to Donovan until taking a closer look at whether the New Start NYC political committee, backed with $2 million of his father’s money, violates campaign finance rules.

“The Board is deferring its decision on whether to pay public funds to the Donovan campaign today, but it has not made a determination on public funds payments nor on whether there has been a violation,” Frederick Schaffer, chair of the city’s Campaign Finance Board said in a statement. “The board will seek further information in this matter from the Donovan campaign and from New Start NYC and will review that information promptly.”

Under the 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. What coordination means — and how it applies to a candidate’s relationship with a deep-pocketed dad — is unclear.

If the board finds evidence of coordination, contributions to the Donovan-backing PAC may actually be considered to be in-kind donations to his campaign. If that’s the case, Donovan may not be eligible for public matching funds due to individual donation limits.

“We are confident that this will be resolved quickly. We look forward to working with the Campaign Finance Board, because we believe that New York City’s campaign finance laws are a model for the nation,” Brendan McPhillips, Donovan’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “We are grateful to the thousands of New Yorkers who donated to us knowing that their hard-earned dollars would be a part of this system. We believe that in short order our matching funds will be released.”

A Matching Funds Boost

The city provides $8 for every $1 qualifying candidates raise, which can boost campaigns and keep spending on a more even playing field. While Donovan hasn’t seen any matching funds from the city, six other candidates benefitted.

Andrew Yang received the most in this round: $3,724,112. Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia got $2,265,561, while former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales notched $2,247,681. None of the three had qualified for matching funds in the first round.

Payments approved on April 15, 2021, by the city Campaign Finance Board
Via the city Campaign Finance Board

In a statement, Morales said the funds “will expand the reach of our organizing power and help fuel this movement … to transform our city into one of dignity, care and solidarity.”

Garcia’s campaign manager, Monika Hansen, touted the funds as proof of “the energized, people-driven campaign.”

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, received $906,437 this round, adding to the more than $1.9 million in public funds she’d already reaped. City Comptroller Scott Stringer got $589,230 this time, adding to nearly $4.7 million in public funds he’d acquired earlier. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams got $317,295 to put on top of the $5.2 million in previous public funds.

Getting into Position

The candidates also found out where they would appear on the ballot, a factor that may hold some sway over undecided voters faced with a list of a dozen Democratic mayoral candidates and ranked choice voting, which will get its first citywide test in the June 22 primary.

The candidates’ ballot positions were determined by a lottery conducted Thursday by the city Board of Elections. The dozen were whittled down from nearly 50 City Hall hopefuls based on preliminarily meeting the threshold for ballot petition signatures.

Morales won the second spot on the list.

“Regardless of the ballot order’s impact, we’re excited for New Yorkers to quickly find Dianne’s name in the No. 2 spot when ranking her No. 1 on their ballot,” said Lauren Liles, a spokesperson for her campaign.

Yang, who found himself last, tweeted that it felt “like grade school where I was always last alphabetically.”

The city Board of Elections held a lottery Thursday to determine the order candidates will appear on the ballot in the June 22 primary.
The city Board of Elections held a lottery Thursday to determine the order candidates will appear on the ballot in the June 22 primary.
Via the New York City Board of Elections

Jeremy Edwards, a spokesperson for Donovan, said the campaign is “looking forward to giving Andrew Yang some company at the bottom of the ballot, while understanding that wherever we are doesn’t change our plans to continue communicating Shaun’s plans for NYC to voters in every borough.”

The top line of the ballot will go to Aaron Foldenauer, an attorney who is “still working” on securing endorsements — and has not qualified for matching funds after raising just $16,360 in private funds as of mid-March, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

In contrast, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who dropped out of the race in March, had raised more than $87,000 and enjoyed broader name recognition.

But Foldenauer — willing to test the limited influence of the coveted premiere spot on the ballot — is not about to follow suit.

“I’m in this race to win it and I’m not dropping out of the race. I’m on the ballot. I’m not going anywhere,” Foldenauer told THE CITY. “The list of candidates in the Democratic primary reads like a veritable phonebook and thus winning top ballot position is a huge deal.”

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