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Donors are Ranking Mayoral Candidates With Dollars to Multiple Campaigns. Here’s Who’s Winning

Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales at a news conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Apr. 23, 2021.
Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales at a press conference outside of Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

The upcoming June 22 mayoral primary will mark the first time New Yorkers cast their votes ranked-choice style in a citywide election.

The few independent public opinion polls so far show Andrew Yang leading the Democratic race, followed by Eric Adams.

But polls aren’t the only signs of who’s ahead and behind — or how ranking may play out once voters cast ballots. While the majority of the donors have given money to a single candidate, city Campaign Finance Board records show some contributions hedged their bets by giving to multiple Democratic campaigns.

THE CITY decided to see how all 2,360 multi-campaign donors “ranked” the candidates they backed by delving into who got the most and least money as of March 11, the date of the most recent contributor disclosure filings with the board.

For instance, if a donor gave $100 to Maya Wiley, $50 to Dianne Morales and $25 to Scott Stringer, their ranking would be Wiley, Morales, Stringer.

Wiley takes questions from reporters after announcing ethics reforms outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
Maya Wiley takes questions from reporters after announcing ethics reforms outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

So how did the candidates fare in this early-bird test of how supporters are splitting their preferences?

The top pick among donors who gave to more than one candidate is Morales. She received 16% of donations from people who gave to more than one campaign.

Meanwhile, she’s raised the fewest dollars of any of the candidates who have collected enough bucks to qualify for the city Campaign Finance Board debates that begin May 13.

Ranked choice voting, said Morales, “has given people permission to support more than one candidate.”

For first-place ranked donations, Morales was followed by Stringer, Wiley, Ray McGuire and Shaun Donovan in a tie at 13%.

Wiley picked up the most second-place rankings, from one-fifth of multiple-candidate donors. The Wiley campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Ranking with Dollars

The ranked choice voting system gives candidates an incentive to buddy up with one another, in an effort to mop up votes from supporters of the other if that frenemy comes up short at the polls.

If no candidate gets more than 51% of first-place votes, then those who won the fewest will have their votes redistributed to their supporters’ second-place picks, and so on, until one nominee in each party comes out on top.

Advocates for ranked choice voting say the donations are a sign the new system is already having an impact on city politics.

“Individual voters know that ranked choice voting gives them a chance to maybe help their second choice if they can’t help their first, and folks making donations know that as well,” said Deb Otis, senior research analyst at FairVote. “This shows that people intuitively understand how to rank candidates, whether we are talking about ranking at the ballot box or ranking with your wallet.”

Take, for example, Rebecca Linn-Walton, senior assistant vice president of the Office of Behavioral Health at New York Health + Hospitals. She gave $335 to Wiley, $250 to Kathryn Garcia and $25 each to Morales and Stringer.

Mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia spoke in support of lessening governmental red tape for small businesses during a campaign event with Andrew Yang in Harlem, March 15, 2021.
Mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia spoke in support of lessening governmental red tape for small businesses during a campaign event with Andrew Yang in Harlem.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

She’s made donations to campaigns in other elections, but this is her first time giving with ranked-choice considerations.

“I usually pick one pony and put all my bets on them, and ranked choice is really helpful because I was able to think through who I want to put more support behind,” Linn-Walton said. “I wound up trying to give money to everybody that I would want to vote for.”

Although she’s not totally set on her rankings, the two largest donations reflect who she’s leaning towards when she fills out her ballot.

She wanted to make sure Wiley and Garcia got matching public funds — which they did: $2.8 million and $2.3 million, respectively. (Linn-Walton later said she thought their responses to the sexual misconduct allegations against Stringer were “inspirational.”)

Rockefeller Spreads Money

Under the CFB’s public matching funds program, campaigns receive $8 for every $1 they raise from a city resident, up to $250 from each donor. (Lobbyists and city contractors are excluded.)

Like Linn-Walton, David Rockefeller, Jr., made a series of campaign donations with ranked-choice voting in mind, his spokesperson confirmed.

Rockefeller gave $5,100, $1,000 and $250 to Donovan, McGuire and Wiley, respectively — contributing the maximum allowed Donovan under an older $6-to-$1 matching program that he alone among the remaining contenders opted into. Rockefeller and his wife, Susan, also gave $25,000 each to an independent committee benefiting Donovan.

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

Other donors said they didn’t consciously give with a ranked-choice intent. Those include lawyer Dominique Bravo, who donated $2,000 to Art Chang, $1,000 to Wiley, $400 to Morales and $250 to Donovan.

“I’ve known Art Chang for over 25 years and admire him greatly and so I gave the most to him,” Bravo said. But she also knows Morales and Wiley and admires them, too. Donovan also stands out to her.

All “are very much aligned with my progressive values,” Bravo said, adding that she hasn’t quite decided how she’ll be ranking them when it really counts in June.

Some prominent multi-candidate donors were not as forthcoming about their thinking in giving money to multiple contenders for the Democratic nomination.

A spokesperson for Chris Hughes, a Facebook founder who co-chairs the Economic Security Project, declined to comment on his $5,100 donation to Donovan’s campaign and three maximum $2,000 donations each to Adams, Garcia and Stringer.

Steve Rattner, CEO of Willett Advisors LLC, which oversees assets for the super wealthy, including billionaire former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, gave $5,100 each to Donovan and McGuire and $2,000 each to Adams and Stringer. Rattner didn’t respond to requests for comment.

It’s not unusual for high rollers to give to multiple candidates. And donations don’t always translate to votes: Some contributors may give to campaigns but won’t vote in the primary, usually because they are not registered New York City Democrats.

“Our donor base is vastly different than our voter base,” said Lupe Todd-Medina, a spokesperson for McGuire.

Record Contributions

As of March 11, McGuire had raised $7.4 million, city records show — a sum larger than what the next three candidates collected, combined. Unlike his rivals, he is not participating in the public matching funds program, which frees him from strict limits on the dollars each donor may give a candidate.

Eric Adams has raised $2.9 million, Donovan $2.2 million and Yang $2.1 million, not counting matching funds. As of March 11, Yang had received more than 20,000 contributions, more than any other candidate, with an average $106 per donation.

More than half of Yang’s donors reside outside New York City, a distinction no other candidate shares.

Garcia, Wiley and Morales lag in total fundraising but have benefited from public matching funds available to local donors.

The Campaign Finance Board says the sheer number of contributions through March 11 — roughly 89,000 — surpasses the 63,000 in the entire 2013 primary cycle.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams hands out masks at the East Midwood Jewish Center, June 5, 2020.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams hands out masks at East Midwood Jewish Center, June 5, 2020.
Alyssa Katz/THE CITY

“We have blitzed past any previous high point for the number of contributions coming in and we are still two months away from the primary,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the Campaign Finance Board. “The volume of activity being disclosed to us by candidates is way up.”

Ranked-choice proponents say that a surge in donations is an expected effect of a new system designed to get more candidates to run and increase voter engagement overall. Turnout in the 2013 primary was just 23% of eligible voters.

“More candidates run in ranked choice elections and a huge driver of voter turnout is whether a voter has someone on the ballot they feel connected to,” said Otis of FairVote. “An election style that opens up an election to more voices will have the effect of bringing out more people to vote.”

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