Quinn Accesses "Bundlers" to Raise Mayoral Funds

Quinn Accesses "Bundlers" to Raise Mayoral Funds
Gay City News
by Duncan Osborne
May 29, 2008

Using a practice that good government groups say can give campaign contributors undue influence with elected officials, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in her race for mayor through intermediaries who collect money from many people on behalf of a candidate.

"Those who are able to raise money in this way will have a bigger key to get in the door to meet with elected officials," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog group.

Quinn has used 50 intermediaries, also known as bundlers, to raise just under $765,000 from more than 800 people. Nearly one-third of her $2.4 million in campaign cash came from bundlers as of January 15, the date of the most recent reports filed by candidates with the city's Campaign Finance Board. Other Democratic mayoral contenders have used bundlers less.

Congressman Anthony Weiner has raised $322,000, or eight percent of his $3.6 million, with 11 bundlers collecting from 136 people, and William C. Thompson, the city's comptroller, has raised just under $108,000, or three percent of his $2.9 million, through seven bundlers and 112 people.

Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn's borough president, has not raised any of his $900,000 with bundlers. Tony Avella, a member of the City Council, has raised $12,720 of his $181,000 through bundlers.

Unlike Thompson and Weiner, Quinn has not hired a professional firm to garner campaign funds so, to a degree, she must use bundlers to stay competitive in fundraising.

At least 12 of Quinn's 50 bundlers are in the real estate business and some of them have significant holdings in New York City. Altogether, those 12 have raised $239,395 for the Council speaker. Some raised just a few thousand dollars while others brought in tens of thousands.

"That kind of pattern in finance is not unusual," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group. "In New York, real estate is like oil in Houston... The question is what are the contributors getting for their contributions. The candidates say, at the most, it's access."

In January, the New York Times reported that real estate firms had poured cash into the campaign coffers of candidates for mayor, City Council, and comptroller in advance of the implementation of a new law that restricted how much people doing business with the city can give to campaigns.

"With the change in the law we saw a huge influx of money into campaigns so groups like the real estate community could maximize their contributions under the old limit," Dadey told Gay City News.

Quinn received additional funds from other real estate firms that did not act as intermediaries for her as did the other mayoral candidates, though Quinn appears to have raised more money from that industry than any other candidate. A Quinn campaign spokesman defended the bundling.

"Speaker Quinn is proud of her broadband support from business leaders to community activists to the hundreds of small donors who gave 35 to 100 dollars to celebrate Pride Week with her last year," said Mark Guma, a Quinn campaign consultant. "She has fully reported all those who donated to her and has led the fight to make New York City's model campaign finance program even stronger."

The Thompson campaign declined to comment. The Weiner campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Not surprisingly, Quinn, an out lesbian who represents Chelsea, also appears to have cornered the gay and lesbian contributions to date. At least five of her bundlers were out gay or lesbian New Yorkers.

"I think she's by far the best qualified candidate that I am aware of who is running for mayor," said Roberta A. Kaplan, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, who raised $15,250 for Quinn at a house party. "She has a long record of leadership on issues of interest to not only our community, but to women... and to people in our city who are economically less fortunate."

Other gay or lesbian bundlers included interior designer Jamie Drake, who raised $5,000; Kirk Wallace, a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who raised $18,000; longtime gay rights leader Urvashi Vaid who raised $4,450; and Howard Koeppel, the car dealer who raised $5,450.

Overall, 18 of the 50 bundlers collected less than $10,000 for Quinn which suggests that they are supporters and not seeking to buy access to a Mayor Quinn. Kaplan was not troubled by the bundling.

"I think if you look at the whole picture and, in particular, the reforms that Chris has instituted I don't really see a problem there," she said. "If anything, she has put greater restrictions on people who donate money to lobby the City Council."