About six months after Republican Wendy Long lost her 2012 race to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York political operative threatened to launch robocalls attacking her in her Upper East Side neighborhood if she didn’t pay her campaign debts.
Long, a Manhattan attorney, who vendors and consultants say owes them $282,547 in debts that she disputes, didn’t pay. Instead, she contacted her lawyer, the NYPD, the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the FBI to report she was being coerced.
No charges were filed, and no robocalls were made.
But Long’s debt, her inability to raise money to pay it off and the lingering resentment among former campaign workers at not being paid all figure in to the high cost of losing a political campaign.
Now Long said the threat and her difficultly in raising funds have led her to run a lean, low-cost campaign in her uphill race this year against Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “I’m waging a campaign against corruption and big money controlling politics,” she said.
In the first three months of this year, Long said she raised $7,115 and lent her campaign $30,200. Schumer said he raised $2.2 million and has $26 million in cash.
Long said that in 2012, “I had no idea how difficult it is to raise money. I hired too many expensive consultants, then when it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to raise enough money, I wanted to cut back on expenses.”
But, she said, the campaign kept spending money.
In her 2012 campaign finance filings, Long said she spent $733,256 and had debts of $282,547. Gillibrand ran a $14.3 million campaign and finished with nearly $2 million in cash.
When you lose, Long said, it’s hard to raise money for debts.
“People like to give to somebody in office or who has a high certainty of winning because it’s like what Donald Trump is talking about: they view it as an investment,” she said. “Once a campaign is over, there is a diminished excitement about giving because there are other campaigns that people want to put their dollars toward.”
Long said she disputed most unpaid bills because she warned everyone involved toward the end of the campaign that she would not have the funds to pay them.
“There was enough money so that everybody could be paid a portion of the money they were owed,” said Brooklyn-based Robert Ryan, her former campaign manager, who added he’s still owed $35,500. But that didn’t happen.
Long said she didn’t see the threat coming.
On April 17, 2013, Long said she had coffee at Champignon, a cafe near her Manhattan home, with New York political operative Steven Kramer after he called her repeatedly.
He said he told her she should pay her campaign bills. “Her reaction was that they were going to work for free for last several months,” Kramer said. “No one works for free.”
Kramer said he told her she and her husband could afford to personally pay the debts. If she didn’t, Kramer said he told her, “If I want to, I’ll robocall your whole neighborhood.”
Long said Kramer gave her an April 22 deadline. “He said, ‘I can make your life very unpleasant,’ ” recalled Long, who said she worried about her family’s safety.
She said Kramer also claimed he had sent another New York politician, former State Senate leader Pedro Espada Jr., to jail and would do the same thing to Long. She said she abruptly ended the meeting and left.
The next day, Kramer said he repeated his demand to Long’s lawyer, Cleta Mitchell.
Mitchell sent Kramer a letter accusing him of blackmail and threats to Long’s children and husband — and warned him never to contact Long again.
Kramer said he didn’t follow through with robocalls after he talked to some of the unpaid consultants, who he would not identify. “They said, ‘Just don’t press it, because this isn’t your fight,’ ” Kramer said. After all, he said, “I got paid.”
Ryan said, “This is all news to me.”
For her campaign this year, Long is being assisted by Jay Townsend, a Cornwall-on-Hudson political adviser who lost to Schumer in 2010 and ended up with $123,176 in debts that include his $91,500 loan to his campaign.
New York Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox hosted a Manhattan fundraiser at the Union League Club for Long, but she said she has no illusions about her campaign.
“I don’t think I’m probably going to be able to raise enough money to run any ads,” Long said. “What I’m going to have to rely on is social media and free media.”