Pro-Yang PACs take shape as New York mayor’s race enters prime time

NEW YORK — The money race is heating up in New York’s mayoral primary.

A top-tier political consultant is launching an effort to boost Andrew Yang’s candidacy with a goal of raising $6 million for TV ads — one of at least three political action committees in the works to propel the current front runner to City Hall.

Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, is in talks with potential donors and staff about forming a PAC that would operate outside the city’s strict campaign finance limits to counter negative advertising against Yang, several people familiar with the calls told POLITICO.

She has partnered with Declaration Media, a national Democratic firm founded by a trio of veteran political operatives: Admaker AJ Lenar, who worked on Obama’s presidential campaign; Meredith Kelly, communications director for Kirsten Gillibrand’s White House bid; and Trey Nix, campaign manager for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Smith, who worked on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign, has been rushing to Yang’s defense as his competitors pile on.

“#amateurhour,” she tweeted after City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s press conference Monday capitalizing on Yang’s earlier tweet in support of a crackdown on street vendors.

“Different, but equally bush league,” she added, critiquing a press conference held by former City Hall attorney Maya Wiley promoting ethics reforms — a move that invited coverage of her own mishaps during her time working for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Cringe, cringe, cringe, cringe,” Smith told New York Magazine, in response to more criticism from Stringer. “Yang is too likable; you can’t hit him like that. It’s like punching a baby.”

Smith is not alone in setting up PACs to elevate Yang’s candidacy: Two other groups filed paperwork recently with the state Board of Elections for the same stated purpose.

Future Forward NYC is being spearheaded by David Rose, a startup investor who heads the entrepreneurial networking website Gust. Rose, who counts himself as a close friend of Yang, is working with longtime Democratic fundraiser Kristie Stiles; Nicole Runge D’Ercole, managing partner at admaking firm 4C Partners; Juan Penalosa, senior adviser to Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign; and John Robinson, chief operating officer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns.

In a March 25 memo to prospective donors, Rose lamented the constraints Yang faces by participating in the city’s campaign finance program — which comes with the considerable upside of publicly-backed matching funds in exchange for agreeing to donation limits. (In this regard Yang is hardly unique — only one candidate in the eight-way Democratic primary is operating outside the system.)

“With investments from generous individuals and organizations, we can make sure Yang’s message is heard by enough voters to make sure he gets over the 50% ranked-choice threshold to win the Democratic primary on June 22nd,” Rose wrote in the memo, which was obtained by POLITICO.

Under the novel ranking system, voters can select up to five mayoral candidates. If no one secures 50 percent of the vote in the first count, second-place choices for disqualified candidates kick in.

Rose said his group would test campaign messages “to see what moves undecided primary voters to Yang” and would “launch paid voter contact programs across all platforms.”

“I’ve known Andrew for years and knew he was something special from the first time I met him during the early days of Venture for America,” Rose wrote in an email to POLITICO, referring to Yang’s former nonprofit. “He’s an optimist who will get the city back on its feet, and an entrepreneur who will meet this critical moment with boldness.”

Asians for NY is also supporting Yang along with two City Council candidates — Sandra Ung and Richard Lee. The group has not raised or spent any money and its treasurer, Nelson Leung, did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one PAC does not share warm feelings toward Yang: Our City, a group formed by Justice Democrats’ Gabe Tobias, is beginning to raise money to counter Yang’s rise in the polls.

“We want to make sure that a progressive candidate wins the mayoral race, and make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang,” Tobias recently told POLITICO.

These groups are the latest to promise a limitless flood of cash into the race, and campaign finance laws prohibit the PACs from coordinating with the campaigns.

Food & Water Watch, an environmental organization that endorsed Stringer in January, recently formed a PAC in support of his campaign.

An independent expenditure committee backing former Obama and Bloomberg official Shaun Donovan received $2 million from the candidate’s father and earmarked even more than that, with a planned $3 million TV ad buy, according to data from AdImpact.

A PAC supporting Wall Street executive Ray McGuire has raised $4 million and booked more than $1.6 million in TV and radio spots.

Other wealthy New Yorkers are getting in on the action.

Billionaire Stephen Ross, who runs development firm The Related Cos., gave his own PAC a half-million dollars — a far cry from the $100 million he had originally said he would spend on this race.

Knicks owner James Dolan has raised $1.6 million for his “Coalition to Restore New York,” one organization that is unlikely to be backing Yang.

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In this Jan. 14, 2021, photo, Andrew Yang announces his run for New York mayor during a news conference in Morningside Park, in New York.
On Jan. 14, 2021, Andrew Yang announces his run for New York mayor during a news conference in Morningside Park. | AP Photo/Kevin Hagen

04/13/2021 08:42 PM EDT

Updated 04/13/2021 09:01 PM EDT

2021-04-13T09:01-0400

NEW YORK — The money race is heating up in New York’s mayoral primary.

A top-tier political consultant is launching an effort to boost Andrew Yang’s candidacy with a goal of raising $6 million for TV ads — one of at least three political action committees in the works to propel the current front runner to City Hall.

Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, is in talks with potential donors and staff about forming a PAC that would operate outside the city’s strict campaign finance limits to counter negative advertising against Yang, several people familiar with the calls told POLITICO.

She has partnered with Declaration Media, a national Democratic firm founded by a trio of veteran political operatives: Admaker AJ Lenar, who worked on Obama’s presidential campaign; Meredith Kelly, communications director for Kirsten Gillibrand’s White House bid; and Trey Nix, campaign manager for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Smith, who worked on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign, has been rushing to Yang’s defense as his competitors pile on.

“#amateurhour,” she tweeted after City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s press conference Monday capitalizing on Yang’s earlier tweet in support of a crackdown on street vendors.

“Different, but equally bush league,” she added, critiquing a press conference held by former City Hall attorney Maya Wiley promoting ethics reforms — a move that invited coverage of her own mishaps during her time working for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Cringe, cringe, cringe, cringe,” Smith told New York Magazine, in response to more criticism from Stringer. “Yang is too likable; you can’t hit him like that. It’s like punching a baby.”

Smith is not alone in setting up PACs to elevate Yang’s candidacy: Two other groups filed paperwork recently with the state Board of Elections for the same stated purpose.

Future Forward NYC is being spearheaded by David Rose, a startup investor who heads the entrepreneurial networking website Gust. Rose, who counts himself as a close friend of Yang, is working with longtime Democratic fundraiser Kristie Stiles; Nicole Runge D’Ercole, managing partner at admaking firm 4C Partners; Juan Penalosa, senior adviser to Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign; and John Robinson, chief operating officer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns.

In a March 25 memo to prospective donors, Rose lamented the constraints Yang faces by participating in the city’s campaign finance program — which comes with the considerable upside of publicly-backed matching funds in exchange for agreeing to donation limits. (In this regard Yang is hardly unique — only one candidate in the eight-way Democratic primary is operating outside the system.)

“With investments from generous individuals and organizations, we can make sure Yang’s message is heard by enough voters to make sure he gets over the 50% ranked-choice threshold to win the Democratic primary on June 22nd,” Rose wrote in the memo, which was obtained by POLITICO.

Under the novel ranking system, voters can select up to five mayoral candidates. If no one secures 50 percent of the vote in the first count, second-place choices for disqualified candidates kick in.

Rose said his group would test campaign messages “to see what moves undecided primary voters to Yang” and would “launch paid voter contact programs across all platforms.”

“I’ve known Andrew for years and knew he was something special from the first time I met him during the early days of Venture for America,” Rose wrote in an email to POLITICO, referring to Yang’s former nonprofit. “He’s an optimist who will get the city back on its feet, and an entrepreneur who will meet this critical moment with boldness.”

Asians for NY is also supporting Yang along with two City Council candidates — Sandra Ung and Richard Lee. The group has not raised or spent any money and its treasurer, Nelson Leung, did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one PAC does not share warm feelings toward Yang: Our City, a group formed by Justice Democrats’ Gabe Tobias, is beginning to raise money to counter Yang’s rise in the polls.

“We want to make sure that a progressive candidate wins the mayoral race, and make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang,” Tobias recently told POLITICO.

These groups are the latest to promise a limitless flood of cash into the race, and campaign finance laws prohibit the PACs from coordinating with the campaigns.

Food & Water Watch, an environmental organization that endorsed Stringer in January, recently formed a PAC in support of his campaign.

An independent expenditure committee backing former Obama and Bloomberg official Shaun Donovan received $2 million from the candidate’s father and earmarked even more than that, with a planned $3 million TV ad buy, according to data from AdImpact.

A PAC supporting Wall Street executive Ray McGuire has raised $4 million and booked more than $1.6 million in TV and radio spots.

Other wealthy New Yorkers are getting in on the action.

Billionaire Stephen Ross, who runs development firm The Related Cos., gave his own PAC a half-million dollars — a far cry from the $100 million he had originally said he would spend on this race.

Knicks owner James Dolan has raised $1.6 million for his “Coalition to Restore New York,” one organization that is unlikely to be backing Yang.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the report misstated Roy Cooper’s state. He is governor of North Carolina.

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