Zephyr Teachout’s small-dollar fundraising surged past her opponent Tish James in the first reporting period of the New York state attorney general’s race, according to numbers provided by the campaign to The Intercept.
Teachout, who announced her candidacy for state attorney general on May 23, said she has raised just over $550,000 from more than 10,000 contributions, 97 percent of which were small donors, defined as giving less than $200. James, by contrast, reported raising $416,000 from individual donors. Her overall fundraising has surpassed Teachout’s, however; thanks to an assist from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, she also raised more than $555,000 from political action committees and corporations, which can give directly to candidates in New York. The New York Times reported last week that just under 60 percent of James’s donations were for $200 or less. The James campaign added to The Intercept that more than half the donations for for $100 or less.
“This campaign is about people having a legal voice against powerful interests,” Teachout told The Intercept in a statement. “I’m proud to be 100% corporate free, with the highest percentage of low dollar donors of any candidate for Attorney General. We do not have to accept the cynicism of the status quo, people can have the politics we deserve and demand.”
Teachout, who is facing off against three other Democrats, is the only candidate in the race who has refused donations from corporate PACs or LLCs. On Thursday, Teachout received the official endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old progressive rising star who ousted Rep. Joe Crowley last month in a New York congressional primary. Following Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, Teachout’s campaign amassed 120 new volunteers, joining the 850 who already signed up, the campaign said.
James, a New York City public advocate who claims a long progressive record allied with the Working Families Party, announced she would not accept the WFP’s endorsement for attorney general — a move reportedly demanded by Cuomo, who is furious with WFP for backing his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in the state’s gubernatorial primary. (Teachout has also endorsed Nixon.)
The winner of the Democratic primary — which is scheduled for September 13 — will face off against Keith Wofford, a relatively unknown Manhattan attorney who has said his priorities will be fighting New York corruption while making the state more “business friendly.”
In 2014, Teachout, then a political unknown, launched a bid against Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor, garnering more than 30 percent of the vote. Two years later, she ran for Congress in a historically Republican upstate New York district and lost by 8 points to her GOP opponent.
The race for attorney general became unexpectedly competitive in May when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned following an explosive New Yorker investigation, in which four women accused him of physical abuse. Schneiderman denied the allegations, but acknowledged that he could not remain in the state’s second-most powerful office following the story. He had positioned himself as a leader in the #MeToo movement, in part by filing charges against film producer Harvey Weinstein who had been exposed as a serial sexual predator.
Democratic attorneys general — politicians with independent authority to sue on behalf of their states — assumed new importance in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. Since Democrats at the federal level have no power to conduct investigations or bring indictments, the 20 states and Washington, D.C. that have elected Democratic attorneys general have been propelled into the spotlight as a check against a one-party national government.
Perhaps no state attorney general in the country has more power than New York’s, in part due to the Martin Act, a state statute from the early 1920s that gives New York’s attorney general expansive law enforcement powers to investigate securities fraud and bring charges against alleged violators. The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board has called it “the worst law in America.”
Armed with these broad prosecutorial powers, Schneiderman was long seen as a backstop to Special Counsel Robert Mueller should his investigation fall through. And yet it wasn’t until Schneiderman resigned that the office, now led by interim Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, filed a civil suit against the Trump Foundation for a host of corruption charges and campaign finance violations. Teachout told The Intercept that she twice urged Schneiderman to take a harder line on allegations of Trump corruption.
Teachout recently called on Cuomo to allow Underwood to criminally investigate the Trump Foundation, something that requires the green light of the governor, the state police, or the state’s Taxation and Finance Department. She also asked her three Democratic opponents to join her in pressuring the governor. None of them did so, and on Friday, Teachout criticized Cuomo for remaining silent; she’s pledged to make investigating Trump’s corruption a central priority if elected.
8 days ago I asked Cuomo to give a referral so AG Underwood can criminally investigate the Trump Foundation. I asked all AG candidates to join the call. Cuomo has not acted & my opponents have not spoken. Trump corruption threatens our democracy w/ no time for silence or delay. https://t.co/vYEw1j2qbG
— Zephyr Teachout (@ZephyrTeachout) July 13, 2018