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The New York Times reported that the billionaires are investing in the leading candidates, and that their biggest issue is the expansion of charter schools. Although many people have already voted, Tuesday is the official election.
When Andrew Yang led the pack, he received big contributions to his super PAC. When Eric Adams surged ahead of Yang, the big money flowed to him.
With the exception of George Soros, who is backing Maya Wiley, the leading progressive in the race, the billionaires are all connected to charter schools. You might notice that the story doesn’t raise the question of why some of the richest people in the nation are committed to private management of public money.
The NY Times reports:
Together, billionaires have spent more than $16 million this year on super PACs that are primarily focused on the mayoral primary campaign that ends on Tuesday — the first mayoral election in the city’s history to feature such loosely regulated organizations devoted to individual candidates.
Overall, super PAC spending in the mayor’s race has exceeded $24 million, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, making up roughly 30 percent of the $79 million spent on the campaign.
The impact has been dramatic: a deluge of campaign mailers and political ads on radio, television and the internet, especially in recent weeks, as the unusually large field of Democratic candidates vied to win over an electorate distracted by the pandemic.
Dedicated super PACs exist for all but one of the eight major Democratic candidates, but half of the billionaires’ spending has benefited just three of the field’s more moderate contenders: Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is considered the front-runner; Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate and a top rival; and Raymond J. McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who trails in the polls.
At least 14 individuals that Forbes magazine has identified as billionaires have donated to mayoral-related super PACs. Several run companies that are headquartered in New York City, while others have interests that would benefit from a good relationship with City Hall, and they are hedging their bets in an apparent effort to improve their chances of backing the winner.
Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire who owns the Mets, donated $500,000 to Mr. Yang’s super PAC and $500,000 to Mr. Adams’s in mid-May, when the two candidates were leading the polls. But as Mr. Yang’s support appeared to wane and Mr. Adams’s grew, Mr. Cohen cut off Mr. Yang and donated another $1 million to Mr. Adams.
A similar trajectory characterizes the giving patterns of Daniel S. Loeb, another hedge fund billionaire and an outspoken supporter of charter schools and former chairman of Success Academy Charter Schools. He donated $500,000 to Mr. Adams’s super PAC and $500,000 to Mr. Yang’s super PAC in mid-May. Three weeks later, as Mr. Adams was cementing his front-runner status, Mr. Loeb gave Mr. Adams’s super PAC another $500,000.
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Yang have expressed support for charter schools.
The flood of money — which has also affected other key contests like the Manhattan district attorney’s race — comes as the pandemic has illuminated the stark differences between the city’s have and have-nots even as the mayor’s race has been more focused on gun crime and public safety than on inequality.
The super PACs also threaten to undermine New York City’s campaign finance system, which is designed to combat the power of big money in politics by using city funds to match small donations.
This year, the city rolled out an enhanced version of that system, offering richer rewards for small donations, and has thus far handed out more than $39 million to the mayoral candidates. But it is far from clear that New York City’s campaign finance system — considered a national model — can withstand the big-money onslaught wrought by the Supreme Court’s Citizens Uniteddecision of 2010, which allowed outside groups to spend an unlimited amount of money in elections.
A super PAC played a small role in the last competitive mayoral primary in 2013, when an animal rights group helped fund a super PAC that attacked Christine Quinn, then the City Council speaker who had been a favorite in the race, because of her support for horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.
The following year, the courts struck down a state cap on the size of contributions to super PACs.
“Now in 2021, New York City has a term-limited Democratic incumbent with no heir apparent, which has led to a wide open mayoral race run with campaigns run by consultants with deep experience using candidate super PACs in federal campaigns,” said John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany.
Super PACs are theoretically independent of the political campaigns, and their spending is not supposed to be coordinated with individual candidates. But questions of the funds’ independence emerged in April, when New York City’s Campaign Finance Board withheld the release of public matching funds to the campaign of Shaun Donovan, who served as the Obama administration’s housing secretary and budget director.
The board wanted to delve into the relationship between Mr. Donovan’s campaign and the super PAC supporting him, New Start N.Y.C., which is largely funded by his father. The board eventually released the matching funds.
“Who’s going to be mayor matters to a lot of people with a lot of money,” said Lawrence Norden, the director of the electoral reform program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “You have to ask yourself when people are spending tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a candidate, why are they doing it and what do they hope to get out of it?”
Yes, indeed. Why are the billionaires so eager to expand charter schools (NYC has almost 300 of them, attended by 12% of the city’s students)? Surely they don’t expect to turn the city’s 1.1 million student school system into a large-scale New Orleans. What is their plan? No one asked.