NEW YORK — To become mayor of New York City, it often pays to get money from New Yorkers.

Outside special interest groups spent record amounts of cash in the mayoral primary this year — almost triple that spent in the last competitive contest in 2013 — but in most cases the investment was an unqualified dud.

All told, political action committees spent nearly $25 million on broadcast, radio and digital advertising, according to data from AdImpact. Their coffers were lined with donations from the likes of megadonors Jeff Yass, Steve Cohen and Dan Loeb.

But the money did little to improve the electoral fortunes of many candidates in the crowded field. In fact, some of the highest-dollar splurges went toward candidates who never got out of the single digits, according to preliminary vote counts from Tuesday‘s election.

And as the race entered its final stretch, deep-pocketed donors, sensing an Eric Adams path to victory, cut big checks to the candidate — setting the stage for conflicts of interest if he emerges from the ranked-choice voting gauntlet and heads to City Hall owing favors.

The impact of outside money, however, depended largely on the strength of the candidate receiving the support, according to POLITICO’s analysis of spending in the race.

A PAC backing Shaun Donovan spent $6 million, the second-highest sum on advertising out of any campaign or independent expenditure group in the field — and was primarily funded by $6.8 million from the candidate’s father. Some of that also went toward legal and consulting costs.

An outside spending group backing Ray McGuire dropped more than $6 million when the costs of ads, consultants and other expenditures were factored in. These eye-popping sums were on par with what some campaigns spent over the course of the race. Yet preliminary results of first-choice votes from the city’s Board of Elections showed that Donovan and McGuire ended the campaign with just over 2 percent of the vote apiece, meaning each pull of the lever cost several hundred dollars.

Not only were Donovan and McGuire virtually unknown first-time candidates in a crowded field, they were competing during a pandemic in an abbreviated campaign season owing to the earlier-than-usual June primary. Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer suggested with more time, they might have made a bigger splash.

“Money doesn’t always equal votes,” she said. “But it doesn’t hurt.”

Indeed, Donovan and McGuire did seem to buy some name recognition. A May poll from Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics showed that familiarity with the two candidates increased by more than 30 points compared to January. But that did not translate into support at the ballot box.

Adams, however, was no doubt assisted by the second-biggest outside expenditure in the race from Strong Leadership NYC PAC. The organization raised big bucks from donors keen on Adams’ pro-charter school stance.

Jenny Sedlis, president of the PAC, said the small team running the outfit had a clear strategy: supplement the work being done by the campaign by targeting the same type of older, Black voters the candidate himself was courting, along with Latino voters later in the primary.

The group hired D.C.-based Truxton Creative and paid for polling and focus groups as the race progressed to hone their message and convince backers their cash was making a difference — especially when Adams was still trailing Yang in the polls.

“Donors are going to want to know that you’re not lighting their money on fire,” Sedlis said.

An added benefit of pumping most of the funds into television ads, the PAC said, was that the campaign could see exactly what the independent group was doing without any coordination — which is prohibited by campaign finance rules.

Lis Smith, a strategist for the independent expenditure committee Comeback PAC which supported Andrew Yang, said the group also decided to spend almost exclusively on cable, broadcast and streaming television ads. And by studying where competitors were investing, the committee could react in a nimble way as a countervailing force. When the organization saw it was being outspent on Spanish-language ads geared towards Adams, for example, Smith said they shifted strategy and put a few hundred thousand dollars on the table as a match.

Yang was the beneficiary of $3.2 million in ad spending from the PAC, according to AdImpact. And despite dominating in early polls, he ended up conceding on election night, two hours after polls closed.

While the nearly $25 million spent by outside groups did not appear to be a decisive factor for any mayoral candidate, good government group Reinvent Albany was nevertheless troubled by monied donors seeking favor with the potential next mayor.

The city’s campaign finance system has been beefed up in recent years to counteract this very sort of influence peddling: The public matching system multiplies low-dollar donations from New York City eightfold to encourage grassroots campaigns, and throughout the course of the primary pumped $39.2 million into the mayoral field — in part to counteract the influx of outside spending.

In addition, corporations are no longer allowed to contribute to campaigns, donations are capped at lower values and well-heeled donors must disclose more information than ever — which is why real estate titan Steven Roth could not credibly disguise the $100,000 given to an outside group supporting Kathryn Garcia, by claiming it came from a New Jersey plumbing company.

Yet none of these rules apply to PACs, which can accept unlimited money in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United. And state data shows that wealthy interests took notice.

Several billionaires who support charter schools, for example, gave six-figure sums to the PAC supporting Adams. And $1.5 million came from New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, who operates Citi Field under a lease with the city.

As Adams began to emerge as the frontrunner in late May, the flow of contributions to the independent expenditure group increased: Out of the total $7 million haul, more than half was raised in June.

Luxury condo developer Gary Barnett dropped $200,000 on June 8, and hedge fund manager and charter school proponent Paul Tudor Jones gave $100,000 a week later, bringing his total contribution to $600,000. Five days before the primary, Stephanie Coleman — philanthropist and wife of hedge funder Chase Coleman III — gave half-a-million dollars.

The windfall directed toward Adams, Reinvent Albany’s John Kaehny said, should give voters pause.

“Why did they make their bets on Adams?” he asked. “And what do they expect in return?”

Original Article: politico.com

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Original Article: politico.eu