For every vote that long-shot candidate Abraham Wasserman won in the November 4 city council election, members of his family raked in a whopping $35 in consultancy fees, preliminary campaign finance records show.
That’s partly because Wasserman, a self-employed real estate entrepreneur who ran on the Conservative Party line, collected just 368 votes in Brooklyn’s hotly contested District 35 showdown. It’s also because 31 percent of his expenditures went to immediate kin.
“That’s outrageous,” said Lorraine Coyle, a Brooklyn-based election lawyer. “This is a perfect example of why the matching funds system needs stronger thresholds.”
While the race was dominated by Working Families Party prodigy Letitia James and Geoffrey Davis, brother of slain councilmember James Davis, Wasserman was able to mount a visible campaign in his Crown Heights neighborhood, observers said. There were posters, sound trucks and speeches in local synagogues.
Still, a closer look at his campaign records reveals some surprises. Wasserman’s $13,000 in payments to relatives far surpassed his biggest material purchase reported: $1,850 for campaign flyers from “Asian Printing” in Queens, a company not listed in the phone book, state’s corporate registry, or the Queens County Clerk’s past nine years of business listings.
Meanwhile, Wasserman’s sons Haskel, identified on documents as a researcher for a Manhattan financial firm, and Joseph, a kosher kitchen supervisor, received $4,000 apiece in consultancy fees, while son Daniel, a student, and wife Lucy, an insurance manager, each received $2,500.
“Everyone was involved,” Wasserman said about his grassroots campaign. “It was a 24-hour operation.”
Asked why family members who kept full-time jobs were paid such pricey fees, Wasserman said, “I can see where you’re going with this” and politely ended the conversation.
Candidates are allowed to hire family members, said Gregory Bensinger, spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board, as long as the work is legitimate and they don’t spend any public matching dollars for family fees. But there’s no set protocol on how to keep public and private funds separate, he added.
The finance board offers a 4-to-1 match for every private donation a candidate raises below $250. Current filings show Wasserman raised $15,945 in private contributions, $1,850 of which came from family members, many of whom later received consultancy fees. Wasserman’s other two high-price consultants, Mendel Mockin, who was paid $5,000 for campaign work, and Gary Tilzer, who was paid $11,000 for the campaign, were also contributors. They could not be reached for comment.
To election watchdogs like Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for the nonprofit NYPIRG, Wasserman’s campaign filings show a potential for kickbacks within the matching funds program. “It’s out of the ordinary, troubling and deserves public scrutiny,” he said.
The board will begin auditing all candidates in the financing program on January 15, when final reports are due, Bensinger said. “We’ll be looking at everyone.”