A Bronx Assembly candidate announced he intends to return a $4,700 campaign donation from a Wall Street electronic trading executive, after THE CITY highlighted that contributor’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending to influence the upcoming primary election.
Jonathan Soto, who is challenging longtime Assemblymember Michael Benedetto (D-The Bronx) in the 82nd district, told THE CITY he’s rejecting the money from Michael Jenkins — even as Jenkins is independently sending mailers promoting Soto to households in the East Bronx District.
State campaign records show an outside spending group called Moving NY Forward, backed with $1.5 million from Jenkins, co-founder of Jane Street Capital, has spent $13,645 as of Monday to support Soto, paying for “direct mail” tied to the June 28 primary election.
Under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, outside groups can spend unlimited sums on elections — but can’t coordinate with campaigns. Candidates are likewise powerless to stop those groups from spending on their behalf.
The Moving NY Forward literature, in English on one side and Spanish on the other, lists positions for Soto that do not appear on his own campaign website. They include “Give tenants the opportunity to buy the home they are currently renting.” The mailer also says he supports “community violence prevention and safety ambassador programs.”
Meanwhile, the Soto campaign website includes a position at odds with Jenkins’ wealth: “Make Wall Street and Big Real Estate Pay their Fair Share (tax the rich).” The campaign says Soto supports increased taxes on financial transactions as well as a tax on second homes valued at $5 million or more.
Soto, who formerly worked for the reelection campaign of progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens/The Bronx) and is endorsed by her as well as the Working Families Party, said he was spurred by THE CITY’s coverage.
“We’re respectfully going to return Mr. Jenkins’ donation,” Soto wrote via text message. “The donation didn’t break our campaign’s pledge to refuse real estate developer, police union, fossil fuel executive, corporate lobbyist or LLC donations. However, out of an abundance of caution, we will process a return to make sure we’re accountable to our voters and movement partners who may share concerns about the details we learned from The City article last week.”
Jenkins could not be reached for comment, and his motives for his massive spending on the primary election in The Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn remain mysterious.
Moving NY Forward recently unveiled a new website that shows endorsements for 33 Assembly candidates.
Following a single $1.5 million contribution from Jenkins, Moving NY Forward has spent nearly half a million dollars, more than $200,000 of it to boost candidate Emmanuel Martinez, who is challenging Assemblymember Jose Rivera (D-The Bronx).
That money is paying for a blitz of mailers and two field staff, as well as a billboard truck plastered with a towering image of the candidate parked steps away from where Martinez was holding a meet-and-greet with voters on June 4.
Moving NY Forward’s executive director Martha Ayon said in a statement to THE CITY this month that the “proudly Latino-led independent expenditure” identified districts to target “that have never received proper investment.”
But the group endorsed several incumbents, including Yudelka Tapia, Amanda Septimo and Karines Reyes of The Bronx, Catalina Cruz of Queens, Marcela Mitaynes of Brooklyn and Jonathan Rivera of Buffalo, among others.
The group says it supports candidates who “embody the ideals of racial, social, economic and environmental justice and have a proven record of fighting on behalf of marginalized communities.”
Benedetto has represented Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay and City Island in the Assembly since 2005. He is the chair of the Education Committee and was a public school teacher for nearly 30 years before his election to the Assembly.
The Albany Times Union reported that Jenkins has applied to open a new school, Escuela Comunitaria del Bronx, which bills itself as “a tuition free, private, Spanish/English dual language community-based pre-school with a progressive inquiry-based program.”
Moving NY Forward declared its intention to “back candidates across the boroughs committed to improving and expanding affordable housing, reducing class sizes, increasing access to quality affordable healthcare and free full day childcare, closing the digital divide, reducing food insecurity, improving community safety and sanitation, increasing transportation access and advocating for tenant rights.”
Soto told THE CITY on Tuesday that while he supports the initiatives Moving NY Forward is advertising on his behalf, he’s not comfortable with the message, calling it “concerning.”
“I want to make sure that everything that I’m speaking about and that’s on my platform is something I’m organizing for during my campaign, and part of my constituent services office,” he said. “I don’t want to make claims that I don’t think I could deliver on.”