An unusual assortment of donors from around the country poured last-minute six-figure donations into the New York state Democratic Party’s unsuccessful effort to recapture the state senate from the GOP this month.
The contributors ranged from supermarket tycoon John Catsimatidis—who ran for New York City mayor as a Republican in 2013—to media heiress and progressive activist Abigail Disney.
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Labor unions and New York City Mayor DeBlasio aggressively backed the failed effort to capture the state senate for Democrats, which would have helped DeBlasio advance his progressive agenda on education, immigration, and minimum wage issues.
While donors are not allowed to give over $10,300 directly to a state candidate in New York, political action committees are allowed to accept 10 times that amount and face no caps on what they can contribute to individual campaigns.
Catsimatidis, owner of New York City grocery chain Gristedes, cut a $50,000 check at the request of DeBlasio to the little-known Putnam County Democratic Committee less than a month before the election. The same committee received a $100,000 donation in October from Alexis Lodde, the Texan owner of a bus company that has a contract with New York City schools.
The Putnam County Democratic Committee, which contributed to Democratic candidate Justin Wagner and state Sen. Terry Gipson—who both lost their races—reported receipts of $452,000 in its campaign finance disclosure 11 days before this election. The big last-minute gifts caught the eye of the New York Daily News and other outlets, since the committee had previously received just $1,450 over the course of the general election.
Catsimatidis, a donor to both parties as well as a loyal Clinton fundraiser, told the New York Daily News that he made the donation at the request of New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio.
"I do a lot of business in the city," Catsimatidis said. "I saw the mayor at an event. He asked me for a favor and I wrote the check."
Lodde’s $100,000 donation to the Putnam County Democratic Committee also raised eyebrows.
The owner of the Dallas-based MV Transportation bus company has never contributed to a New York race before, but has recent business interests in New York City, Crain’s reported earlier this month.
According to Crain’s, MV Transportation holds a bus contract with New York City public schools and benefited from a controversial $42 million bus employee grant championed by DeBlasio.
Another last-minute donor, Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Walt Disney’s brother, gave $39,700 to the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee on October 20.
Disney, a documentary filmmaker and a Hillary Clinton backer, is reportedly a supporter of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign.
The heiress gave up her portion shares of in the Walt Disney Company in 2012 to protest its investment in Israeli skincare company Ahava, a prominent target of the BDS movement. She said she would donate the portion of money that came from the Ahava invesments to "organizations working to end this illegal exploitation."
Despite the 11th hour Democratic funding blitz, Republicans won 32 out of 63 state senate seats, pushing out three Democratic incumbents and giving the GOP clear control of the upper chamber.
Previously, Republicans had cobbled together a majority coalition by aligning with a splinter group of independent-leaning Democrats.