Follow the Money, 2013: Big Money Wins


Follow the Money is a feature by Jon Reznick, recurring every few weeks, that takes a closer look at campaign finance using public data. The views presented herein are solely those of the author, and it’s about to get real in here.

People wrongly assume that my interest in campaign finance and in encouraging dramatic reform of the campaign finance system makes me a natural ally of the Fair Elections for New York campaign. This is not the case. Let me start out by saying flat out and without reservation that I do not think encouraging small donors is actually any better than encouraging big ones. My view, which I am testing with exploratory statistics, is that encouraging donor-ship at all, and tolerating any fundraising component in campaigning whatsoever inevitably and unavoidably benefits Big, Institutional, and Early money (what I will refer to as I cover this topic over the months as Smart Money). Over the course of this year, I seek to prove this to be axiomatic, no matter how much you juke the incentives. Fair Elex takes the counterpoint to this here:

How’s it looking for small donors?

I make three fundamental claims. One is about Big Money, another is about Early Money (which I hear, it’s like yeast?) and the last is about Institutional Money including but not limited to PACs, Labor organizations (who spend through PACs), Party organizations, and neighborhood political clubs. These three Smart Money concepts all connect in the sense that once your political campaigns are organized around the concept of fund-raising as an essential component, you literally cannot keep Big Money, Early Money, and Institutional Money from winning. But let’s begin to test the Fair Elex assumptions, I might be wrong! Today, we’re going to address Big Money.


In NYC the total in contributions, made in 104,386 transactions as of the March filing is $42,211,396.78. The amount which is claimed for donor-match is $6,402,812.00. If 100% of that claim is honored, that means $38,416,872.00 of public funds will be contributed to the election. So your grand total claimed, including matching funds, as of March 11, ’13 is already $80,628,268.78. (Many claims will be denied, roughly 20% I am told, but there is also more fund-raising to do and for consistency, I will simply treat all claims as honored). $27 million in matched funds went into ’09. Across the entire universe of fundraising, the average donation is $404.38. If you count in the sum in matching funds, the average donation is pushed up to $772.41.

So now let’s look at two neighborhoods, and see what the match/cap small donor system has really done.

We’ll start with my own ZIP code, 10034. This zip code covers Inwood and some of Washington Heights, in Manhattan. 245 donors from my zip code put up $27,383.75 across all campaigns. They claimed $15,012.00 is worthy of match, for a multiplier of $90,072.00, meaning the grand total posted up by my neighbors with donor match is $117,455.75. The average donation jumps up from $111.77 to 479.41. 55% of contributions in 10034 qualified for donor match. 55% of 245 is around 135 people, averaged.

Now let’s look at where my grandmother lives, (hi, Grandma!) on the Upper East Side, 10065. 822 UESers from that ZIP put up $658,407.30 across all campaigns, and claimed $82,687.00 for donor match. Their donor match multiplier is $496,122.00, so the grand total that has been made available to politicians by 10065 is $1,154,529.30. The average donation was $800.98, and jumps up to $1,404.54 when you factor in donor match funds. 12.5% of contributions in 10065 qualified for donor match. 12.5% of 822 is around 103 people, averaged.

These are the figures that went into the chart above the fold.

So 10034 gets $90,072 in public money from 245 people, which is an average of $367.64 per resident donor.

10065 gets $496,122.00 in public money from 822 people, which is an average of $603.55 per resident donor.

So tell me, suppose you are a politician running a boro-wide or city-wide race in search of public funds… where do you want to go today?