money in politics

Queens DA Candidate Tiffany Cabán’s Most Zealous Donors: Her Staff

Queens District Attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán speaks at a press conference on May 23.
Queens District Attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán speaks at a press conference on May 23. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Tiffany Cabán’s grassroots campaign for Queens district attorney is drawing contributions from across the nation. But her two most frequent donors are local: two campaign staffers who together have made dozens of donations as small as $5.

Cabán’s financial support is largely rooted far from the borough she seeks to serve, the public defender’s latest campaign finance filings with the state Board of Elections show. Of her $215,000 in individual contributions, just $37,000 came from 542 Queens residents — with Jackson Heights and Forest Hills leading the way.

Her single largest donation came from California resident Patty Quillin, the wife of Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who contributed $35,000.

A review of 150 pages of individual contributions made to Cabán’s committee show 30 people made five or more donations between January and late May.

Cabán has pulled in $215,000 from 1,822 individuals, and $256,000 in all. That makes her the undisputed winner, so far, of the coveted contest for small donations, even as she lags in fundraising behind some other candidates in the seven-way race to replace the late Richard Brown.

Fundraising front-runner Melinda Katz raised $560,000 in all from sources that included 273 individuals. Katz, currently Queens borough president, has $907,000 available to spend, compared to $151,000 for Cabán.

Rounding out the fundraising field in the latest filings are former judge Gregory Lasak (nearly $445,000); former Civilian Complaint Review Board director Mina Malik ($397,000); City Councilmember Rory Lancman ($246,000); Jose Nieves ($70,000) and Betty Lugo ($57,000). All but Cabán, Malik and Lugo added to funds raised before January.

Primary Day Approaches

The Democratic primary is set for June 25. Cabán recently made headlines when she gained the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens/Bronx), whose insurgent campaign victory stunned the Queens Democratic machine.

At a time when progressive Democrats routinely showcase large numbers of contributions from small donors as a badge of grassroots credibility, Cabán’s wide support — with an average donation of $118.27 — stands out.

So do the giving habits of two former campaign managers that bolster the impression of a groundswell of donors.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is the fundraising front-runner.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is the fundraising front-runner. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Ralph “Rapi” Castillo, a former Cabán campaign manager who still works for the effort, made 23 donations between April and late May totalling $566, financial disclosures show. On April 3 alone, the campaign recorded two $3 contributions from Castillo to Cabán’s campaign, as well as three $5 contributions and another $10 donation, in separate transactions.

Another former Cabán campaign manager, Alon Gur, made 14 donations to her campaign.

Gur, who is also still working on the campaign, donated a combined $2,575 — recorded on April 10 as 11 different transactions, records show.

Susan Sarandon Among Supporters

Cabán’s campaign staff isn’t alone in making multiple, smaller contributions. Actress Susan Sarandon made a $1,500 donation to Cabán’s campaign, breaking up the contribution into three $500 bites.

Another donor made six contributions totalling $525 — one $25 donation and five $100 donations, while one supporter contributed $50 in five installments.

A Cabán campaign spokesperson said that campaign fundraising software accounts for the patterns of payments.

“Many of our supporters set up a monthly recurring donation, and we import these funds into our account all at once,” said spokesperson Monica Klein. “Tiffany’s leading a grassroots movement to decriminalize poverty, end cash bail and stop mass incarceration — which is why more people supported her campaign than any of her competitors.”

Encouraging multiple smaller contributions as a show of popular support is hardly an unknown tactic in New York politics.

Last summer, amid a primary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign tapped into allies and relatives of members of his administration to bolster his contributor pool, which included a single donor who made 69 contributions totalling $77.

Cabán also received in-kind contributions, in the form of $13,000 worth of free work and services, from Real Justice PAC, the San Francisco-based political action committee founded by several former staffers from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid and political activist Shaun King.

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