Money always creates a spicy subplot in the supersized saga of a New York City mayoral campaign. And so, many eyes were fixed on yesterday's six-month fundraising disclosures -- an interesting load of data in a contest due to produce the first new mayor in 12 years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg dominated the financing stories of the three previous elections, each time exercising his right to opt out of spending restrictions. He single-handedly blew the doors off election-spending records by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into advertisements, consultant fees and targeted mailings.
Every candidate now has his own angle in this dial-for-dollars phase of the game. The scramble is monitored and supervised by the city's Campaign Finance Board -- a body as well known for hyper-vigilance as other election boards are for laxity. Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo even lauded the city's system for matching private contributions as "in many respects . . . the ideal model for statewide reform."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) shows more than $5 million in the bank. Operatives for ex-city comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. touted his having raised more than $1 million in the six-month reporting period that led up to this week's deadline, saying it puts to rest fundraising doubts recently voiced by others.
Comptroller John Liu's report of raising more than $500,000 in the period signifies that he's pushing on -- despite a unique blight on his own campaign's fiscal conduct. His campaign treasurer, Jenny Hou, and a fundraiser, Oliver Pan, are on trial in federal court for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to funnel illegal contributions to Liu's war chest.
And on the Republican side, the fundraising sums reported so far are smaller. At times, the city GOP looks not so much like a viable party as a gated community of ex-Democrats. But there's drama here, too. Mayoral candidate George McDonald has sued in court, claiming the CFB's contribution ceilings are way too low. "Without a personal fortune or a pre-existing base of donor support," he said in a statement, "it's impossible to raise the funds necessary to compete."
Another possible GOP candidate, John Catsimatidis, owner of Gristedes supermarkets, has the wherewithal to roil the campaign-financing landscape. How he chooses to proceed could influence whether rival candidate Joseph Lhota will opt in or out of the city's public-match program.
Twelve years ago, Alan Hevesi, then city comptroller, was widely hyped as a good bet to succeed the term-limited Rudy Giuliani. But before he landed fourth in a Democratic primary, the campaign board balked for a while at releasing matching public funds for Hevesi because his top campaign adviser, Hank Morris, seemed to be underreporting the cost of his own services -- thus potentially enabling the campaign to evade spending limits.
Mark Green, who in 2001 became the first of three Democratic nominees outspent and beaten by Bloomberg, leads a national effort called "Money Out -- Voters In," aimed at curbing big-spenders' influence on government in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision.
Green was asked Tuesday about legal efforts to chip away at the city's financing laws in light of the national advent of Super-PACs. "Is New York's system secure?" he said, "For the moment it is."