17th Council District Campaign Finance: Follow The Money

vote-logo1As the special election to fill the vacancy of former Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo draws nearer, The Bronx Chronicle decided to review the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) disclosure reports of each candidate who will appear on the ballot.

We found some interesting nuggets of information in each of those reports. Of the six remaining candidates who will be on the ballot next Tuesday, Julio Pabon has the greatest number of contributors (293) who gave an average of $54 (the lowest average donation).

Today, the Salamanca campaign received a public funds payment of $36,732, which is larger than the $34,741 disbursement the CFB made to Rev. J. Loren Russell last week.

Although candidates Carlton Curry, Helen Foreman-Hines and Amanda Septimo participated in the CFB program and submitted disclosure reports, they saw their fledgling campaigns end on February 8 when the NYC Board of Elections ruled them off the special election ballot.

New York City’s matching funds program provides public funds to participating candidates at a rate of $6-to-$1 for contributions from City residents. For special elections the match applies to the first $87 contributed, for a maximum of $522 in public funds per contributor.

 

Julio Pabon – Bronx Not For Sale Party

A review of the Julio Pabon disclosure filing showed it spent $4,000 (and owes another $6K) on top gun election lawyer Martin Connor; $318 on MTA MetroCards; and $670 on food for his campaign staff and volunteers at local eateries (Court Deli, Giovanni’s Grand Concourse, Little Caesar’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Mexicozina Taqueria, Parilla Latina Steakhouse, South of France, and Walton Food Service). “Pabon shops, eats and sleeps local,” said one supporter.

The campaign owes Blanca Canino-Vigo (Pabon’s companion) $6000 for campaign finance compliance work. “Blanca calls the CFB 6-7 times a day and she has had to set aside her [beautician] business to manage the required reporting. She should be paid more,” said Pabon in a phone interview.

Despite claiming over $7000 in matching contributions, the CFB has not made a public funds payment. Knowledgeable sources say that CFB auditors are questioning dozens of $10 cash donations. Mr. Pabon has 293 donors giving an average of $54. **After this article posted, the CFB released $33,432 in public funds to the Pabon campaign.**

Calling his situation “totally unfair” Pabon said, “The CFB program is not set up to help the little guy [running in a poor community] compete. Small $10 cash contributions raise red flags.” CFB auditors told Pabon that checks would be preferable. Sounding incredulous, Pabon said, “People here don’t have checking accounts.” Many of the neighborhoods comprising the 17th Council District are underbanked. Money orders from the checking cashing stores that proliferate in the absence of banks also raise red flags.

 

J. Loren Russell – Rebuilding Our BX Party

Rev. Russell stands out as the only CD 17 candidate to get a public funds payment. Last week, he got a matching funds payment of almost $35,000. Today, he received another infusion of matching funds to bring his public funds total to $42,846.  His biggest expenditures have been to his election lawyer, Sarah Steiner, his campaign consultant, Kristie Velasco, and paid petition workers. His single largest donor is attorney Glenn Finley, who gave $1000. Just over $5000 was given by 194 persons giving $50 or less. Another 69 donors gave contributions of $60 to $200 totaling $7640. He has a total of 257 donors who gave on average $61.

Acknowledging that while he can’t match Democratic establishment candidate Rafael Salamanca’s mailing strength and high profile endorsements, Rev. Russell believes wearing out shoe leather, making campaign lit drops, and possessing the faith of a mustard seed, he will prevail.

 

Rafael Salamanca, Jr. – Community First Party

Salamanca has been criticized for accepting donations from executives at Fresh Direct and Baldor Foods, as well as the Rent Stabilization Association PAC. Union supporters describe Baldor Foods as vehemently anti-union. Mychal Johnson, spokesperson for South Bronx Unite which opposes Fresh Direct, conceded that while accepting the donation doesn’t disqualify Mr. Salamanca, “it raises questions about the seriousness with which he takes community concerns.”

“There’s a reason that our friends in labor have coalesced around my campaign, because they know I’m the candidate that will fight for a real  $15 living wage, fair working conditions, better jobs and continued rights to collectively bargain,” responded Rafael Salamanca in a statement.

Make The Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group, SEIU 32BJ, the UFT and the Working Families Party, organizations endorsing Salamanca, are also clients of his campaign consultant, Red Horse Strategies. According to Brooklyn-based blogger Gary Tilzer, this is Red Horse’s modus operandi and that  “Red Horse ran the UFT’s United For The Future PAC” in 2013. Asked about Mr. Tilzer’s comment, Red Horse representative Ryan Monell said, ” We work with a lot of different candidates and labor unions. Our relationships with labor are on a case-by-case basis. Their endorsement [of our candidates] is independent of us.”

Veteran Bronx Democratic Party operatives, Venancio “Benny” Catala, Angel Gaud (who is on leave from his job with State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz), and Sal Ocasio are listed separately as performing work as campaign manager, consultant and canvassing consultant. The three men have earned $2500, $4000, $16,664, respectively.

Just today, the Salamanca campaign received a public funds payment of $36,732. The campaign has spent $264 in transaction fees with ACT Blue to process online donations. The campaign’s 279 contributors have donated an average of $251. Three intermediaries, including Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, raised $580. Assemblywoman Arroyo raised $225 from family members, including $80 from her daughter, former Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

Note: In an earlier version of this article, we mistakenly wrote that 1199SEIU had endorsed Mr. Salamanca. 1199SEIU has not endorsed anyone in CD 17.

 

George Alvarez – Bronx For All Party

George Alvarez reported $11,130 cash-on-hand. Alvarez raised $5115 from 164 small donors giving $50 or less. Thirteen donors giving $250 – $1000 contributed $8050 to Alvarez’s coffers. He has a total of 204 donors who gave on average $145.

In this non-partisan special election, Alvarez has the support and paid assistance of Republican Party operatives, including Fred Brown, chairman of the National Black Republican Council and a member of the Republican National Committee. Alvarez’s NYC Campaign Finance Board filing has a number of interesting nuggets.

Ernest Kebreau, a Republican and a former Conservative candidate for State Senate in the 33rd SD, was paid $2000 to coordinate outreach for the Alvarez campaign. Brown earned $1400 in consulting fees. Democrat-leaning Richard Fife earned $3000 as the campaign’s publicist.

On Facebook, Alvarez posted that he received a standing ovation at the Bronx Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner held on February 3, 2016. He also posted pictures with NYS Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox and Fred Brown, chairman of the National Black Republican Council.

His paid campaign manager is Hector Ramirez. Readers may recall that in May 2015, Mr. Ramirez was arrested on voting fraud charging stemming from his failed bid in the 86th Assembly District in 2014.

News accounts reported that Ramirez and his allies went door-to-door in the 78th assembly district duping voters into letting the former district leader’s campaign staff vote on their behalf, the Bronx DA charged in a 242-count indictment. Despite allegedly using fake absentee ballots Ramirez still lost the election to Assemblyman Victor Pichardo by two votes.

 

Joann Otero – Stronger Together Party

CM Arroyo’s ex-aide, Joann Otero has raised over $14,000 and spent $9287 leaving only $5155 cash-on-hand. Otero amassed $6475 from 18 contributors giving $250 or more. Otero has paid $3000 to Brooklyn-based Valentin Consulting. She also awaits a matching funds disbursement. Otero’s 173 donors gave an average of $83.

 

Marlon Molina – Bronx Renewal Party

Marlon M. Molina reported $3803 cash-on-hand. He has loaned his campaign $2000 after previously donating $500 to his own cause. Despite raising $9679, Mr. Molina admitted that his campaign will not meet any of the CFB’s qualifying thresholds for matching funds. Five intermediaries raised $581 in low dollar contributions. Ninety-eight contributors gave an average of $78.

 

votefraudThe special election is Tuesday, February 23rd. Polls will be open for voters to cast their ballots from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Voters can find out where to vote using the Board of Elections poll site locator by clicking here.

 

The 17th Council district includes the neighborhoods of Longwood, Hunts Point, Concourse, Concourse Village, Crotona Park, Melrose, Morrisania, Mott Haven, North Brother Island, Port Morris, and Soundview.

 

This post was updated to include the release of public funds payments by the CFB to the Pabon and Russell campaigns. Also, the article includes Mr. Salamanca’s response to critics of his commitment to labor issues and adds publicist Richard Fife as one of the Alvarez campaign’s paid advisors. 

CORRECTION: The labor union 1199 SEIU has not in fact made any endorsement in that race. We apologize for the error. 

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