Nearly two thirds of Manhattan DA candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein’s monumental $2.26 million dollar fundraising haul has come from megadonors giving sums of $10,000 or greater, a New York Focus examination of campaign finance disclosures found.
Since launching her campaign last July, Farhadian Weinstein has received 75 donations ranging from $10,000 to $35,400, adding up to a total of $1,449,300, from a donor base heavily reliant on Wall Street banking and investing.
Dozens of Farhadian Weinstein’s top donors are titans of finance at firms including Goldman Sachs, Pershing Square Capital, and Saba Capital, a hedge fund founded and currently managed by Boaz Weinstein, Farhadian Weinstein’s husband. Boaz Weinstein was one of the 400 richest Americans as of 2012, with a net worth of $450 million, according to Forbes.
Large contributions to DA candidates have drawn criticism from good government advocates, who argue that the Manhattan District Attorney in particular, charged with regulating major parts of the financial services sector, should not be drawing donations from business executives.
“While it’s almost impossible in most cases to explicitly draw a connection between those, the role of Wall Street figures in campaign finance does create suspicion and reduce trust in our civic institutions,” said Tom Speaker, a policy analyst at the non-partisan watchdog Reinvent Albany.
The cash bonanza puts Farhadian Weinstein, former general counsel to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, well ahead of her nearest competitors in fundraising. After Farhadian Weinstein’s $2.26 million haul, the next highest total from any of the candidates was former New York Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg’s, who has raised $1,334,347.
Farhadian Weinstein has raised 64% of her total funds from donations over $10,000, a significantly higher portion than any other candidate.
Campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus defended Farhadian Weinstein’s fundraising. “More than 75 percent of Tali’s contributions are from Manhattanites, she outraised the entire field with the amount she raised from just the contributors who gave less than $10,000, and, in fact, passed the majority of the field just with the amount raised from contributions to her of $2,500 or less,” she said in a statement to New York Focus.
Campaign filings show that Manhattanites made up 50% of the campaign’s individual donations, which added up to 77% of the total dollar amount raised.
And some smaller contributions received by Farhadian Weinstein also came from individuals associated with finance and real estate. Weinstein received $1,000 from Crystal McCrary, wife of Wall Street financier and mayoral candidate Ray McGuire; $1,500 from Eli Elefant, CEO of the multi-billion dollar real estate company Property and Building Corp and donor to Republican Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Martha McSally; and $5,000 each from Bara and Alex Tisch of the hotelier family, both of whom also donated $50,000 to the Trump Victory PAC in 2016, according to FEC filings.
On the subject of Farhadian Weinstein’s fundraising generally, Blatus added that “This incredible support shows that people living and working in Manhattan know Tali Farhadian Weinstein is the candidate who will deliver on justice and fairness, and—critically—safety to the borough.”
Former prosecutor Lucy Lang has raised $341,146 in five figure donations, 48% of her total fundraising. None of the other candidates received more than 25% of their total funds from personal donations above $10,000.
“We have had one the most productive and broad-based first filing periods of anyone in the race, with nearly 900 supporters, including many who have been impacted by the justice system, donating to our effort,” Matthew Koos, Lang’s campaign manager, said in a statement to New York Focus.
Other candidates in the race criticized the sources of Farhadian Weinstein’s fundraising.
“In the era of Black Lives Matter and the long-overdue national conversation about changing our criminal legal system, New York voters are not going to let a punitive prosecutor and her one percenter friends buy this seat,” public defender and DA candidate Eliza Orlins told New York Focus. “Tali Weinstein does not represent everyday New Yorkers, and everyday New Yorkers do not support her. Voters decide elections, not the wealthy and powerful.”
“Ms. Farhadian Weinstein’s filing is filled with the titans of Wall Street,” former prosecutor and DA candidate Diana Florence told New York Focus. “The DA’s office has been tainted by a deference to wealth and power, and we need someone leading it who has the trust of working New Yorkers, not the private jet set.”
In a press release last week, Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign said that the candidate had raised “more in new contributions than previously collected by all other candidates, combined” since declaring her candidacy six months ago. The press release highlighted the number of small contributions the campaign had received, noting that donations “included more than 1,700 contributions of $200 or less, and 95 percent of those were under $101.”
But the 1,727 donations of $200 or less received by the campaign represent just 2.8% of the total funds raised by the campaign. Farhadian Weinstein received 2,019 donations of less than $1,000, adding up to 13.2% of total funds.
“When you have someone who has received over $1 million from five figure donations, yet is manipulating the system to make it seem like they are being funded by small-dollar contributions, you know they are in trouble,” said Jamarah Hayner, campaign manager for civil rights attorney and DA candidate Tahanie Aboushi.
Saba Capital president Andrew Kellerman, partner Xavier Riera, and former partner Benkiewicz contributed a collective $98,020 to Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign.
Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire founder of Citadel, a multi-billion dollar hedge fund, contributed $10,000. Griffin is one of the largest Republican donors in the country, donating $35 million to the Republican Senate Majority PAC in 2020 alone.
Husband and wife Zachary and Lori Schreiber contributed a combined $70,800. Zachary Schreiber is the CEO of PointState Capital, another multi-billion dollar hedge fund. In 2013, the Schreibers purchased a Fifth Avenue apartment for $31 million.
Robert Granieri, a broker at the quantitative trading firm Jane Street, contributed $20,000. He is also a major Republican donor, contributing over $880,000 to Republican-supporting PACs in the last five years.
Other top donors were employed by companies including Pershing Square Capital Management, Mudrick Capital Management, Point State Capital, Eton Park Capital Management, Carnival Cruise Line, and Loews Hotels.
Some observers of the election raised the concern that Wall Street donations could create a conflict of interest for the Manhattan DA, who is responsible for the prosecution of financial crimes that occur in Manhattan.
“If you’re coming into this race saying, ‘I need to raise over a million dollars, and I need to hit up corporate Wall Street contributors for the max,’ that’s not somebody who’s going to be looking at these issues through the lens of social justice and focusing prosecutions where they should be—which, frankly, take a look at Wall Street,” said Bret Taylor, financial secretary-treasurer of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.
Candidates reliant on large donors become dependent on those donors for their reelection campaigns, said Alyssa Aguilera, co-director of the VOCAL-NY Action fund. As a result, she said, “those are the people that are going to have an ear, that you’re going to listen to, that’ll be in your circle.”
Asked whether employees of New York’s financial services sector should be barred from donating to DA campaigns, Farhadian Weinstein’s spokesperson referred to Farhadian Weinstein’s pledge not to take more than $1 from criminal defense lawyers or firms.
“Rather than isolating one industry or sector or group of people that may come into conflict with the DA’s office, Tali has chosen to confront the readily apparent conflict with lawyers and law firms who have a criminal defense practice in New York. They are sure to encounter the DA’s office, in fact, their business depends on it, and even the appearance that their contributions to a DA might give them special access for their clients is the real problem,” Blatus said.
Speaker argued that in order to avoid the perception of conflicts of interest, the state should implement a public campaign finance system for District Attorney’s races and lower the $35,400 contribution limit.
“I mean, you shouldn’t be able to donate many more times to District Attorney candidates than you can to candidates for the presidency of the United States,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Farhadian Weinstein was a former prosecutor at the Brooklyn DA’s office. Farhadian Weinstein was a federal prosecutor, not a prosecutor at the Brooklyn DA’s office, where she worked as general counsel.
This article was updated with information on the percentage of Farhadian Weinstein’s donors who are residents of Manhattan.