Adem Bunkeddeko’s donors, and the gaps in his platform

Peter Hogness
Jun 24, 2018 · 7 min read

(Note: I’m sorry that I’m posting this so close to the June 26 primary election. It’s rough, and raises some questions that deserve more than a few days to answer. But I only started looking into the donor issue this weekend, after seeing a friend’s comment online, & wanted at least to share what I’d learned.)
……(Later note: Bunkeddeko posted a response Monday morning on his Facebook page. Most of his responses are good, a couple still concern me. See bottom of this article for the link, & my short comments.)

Adem Bunkeddeko getting some positive attention among progressive activists I know, and from his campaign platform you can see why. But Bunkeddeko’s donors include a lot of wealthy conservatives, and that’s gotten little public attention. These are a minority of his donors, and I think it’d be a mistake to equate his views with theirs or dismiss him out of hand. But there are enough such donors that for me, it raises some serious questions, and made me notice some important gaps in Bunkeddeko’s platform. At the very least, Bunkeddeko needs to be accountable to some public discussion on how he’s chosen to fund his campaign.

Donors who’ve given $1,000 or more to Adem Bunkeddeko include:

  • Ken Langone, home Depot Founder, billionaire Republican donor and a vocal Trump supporter (who’s described Bernie Sanders as “the Antichrist”):
  • Bradley Tusk, former Bloomberg campaign chair and Uber lobbyist.
  • Jerry Speyer, billionaire head of Tishman Speyer real estate, whose other political contributions in 2017–2018 have all been to Republicans (including Paul Ryan, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and over $170,000 to the National Republican Senate & Congressional Campaign Committees, both working to keep Congress in Republican hands in 2018).
  • Joel Klein, who was the anti-union, anti-teacher Chancellor of Schools under Bloomberg & is now an executive at Fox News’ parent company.
  • Doug Schoen, a conservative Democratic political consultant who announced at the end of October 2016 that he could not vote for Hillary Clinton because her election could provoke “a constitutional crisis” (because, emails!). A frequent contributor on Fox News, Schoen was described in Washington Monthly as “the quintessential Fox News Democrat” for his habit of criticizing the party from the right — for example, when he warned that Occupy Wall Street “reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people” such as “raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans,” and that instead Democrats should “appeal to independent and self-described moderate swing voters who want smaller government and lower taxes, not additional stimulus or interference in the private sector.”
  • John Petry of Sessa Capital, a major funder of the anti-union, anti-public-school group Democrats For Education Reform
  • Everett Cook, of Pouschine Cook Capital Management, whose other donations in the last four years have all been to Republicans (including John Faso & Jeb Bush)
  • Shopping mall developer William Taubman (whose other political donation in this election cycle was to John James, a Senate candidate in Michigan whose campaign website says he’s a “conservative outsider who supports the Trump Agenda.”

Source for this list is the Federal Election Commission website. (Go to this link, and click on the column heading “Amount” to sort by donation size.) A majority of Bunkeddeko’s high-dollar donors are liberals whose other donations go to candidates like Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, or Brian Schatz. But enough of his campaign money is coming from anti-union conservatives that it gives me pause. (FWIW, I spot-checked incumbent Yvette Clarke’s largest donors; I found none who mainly gave to Republicans.)

It’s strange, because Bunkeddeko’s campaign platform includes some thoughtful and even radical proposals. He favors support for worker-owned co-ops as a job creation tool. He backs community land trusts, vacancy taxes on unoccupied apartments, and other creative and bold ideas for building affordable housing. He backs Medicare For All & free public-college tuition.

But what’s not in there is a word in support of unions, or rent control, or any criticism of Wall Street, or calls for increasing taxes on the rich. (Ditto for his Twitter stream.) Bunkeddeko’s platform is pretty positive about charter schools, expressed in a measured way but with zero concern or alarm about how hedge-funders have used charters to build political support for school privatization. Together with the fact that he’s a Harvard MBA who worked for a time as an investment banker, those silences make me wary.

Here’s what I’d like to ask Bunkeddeko:

  • Have you spoken directly with any of the donors listed above? If so, what did you tell them about your views that motivated them to give?
  • Your platform speaks of encouraging state and local governments to adopt laws to promote affordable housing. What are your views on rent control?
  • In the section of your platform titled, “ Keep Incomes at Pace with Living Costs,” why are unions not mentioned? At a time when unions are under severe attack, what would you do to support them if elected? Do you support federal reforms that would make it easier to form a union (like card-check recognition), or end states’ ability to ban union shops (through so-called “right to work” laws)?
  • Do you support a national $15 minimum wage?
  • You’ve worked as an investment banker, and your campaign platform and Twitter feed contain no criticism of Wall Street. What are your views on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, recent moves to roll-back the Dodd-Frank legislation, and the fact that no bankers were jailed for the abuses that led to the 2008 financial crisis?
  • Do you believe the wealthiest 1% should pay a lot more in taxes? Would you support a stock transfer tax (as is charged in most other developed countries)?
  • Are you concerned by the growing domination of our political life by billionaires? If so, what would you do to change it?

Again, I’m sorry that I’ve only done this research, and had these questions sparked, so close to the election. If Bunkeddeko responds, I’ll post the link here. (I started looking at the FEC data only after seeing a friend’s comment on the Langone donation, which cited this blog post .)

Another insurgent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running for Congress in Queens and the Bronx, shows that a different path is possible. Bunkeddeko has raised 83% of his funds from large donations, with just 17% in amounts below $200. For Ocasio-Cortez, it’s the reverse: about 70% of her donations have been less than $200, with about 30% above that amount. Unlike Bunkeddeko, her donor list does not include the former CEO of Sony, or Lorillard Tobacco, or any real estate billionaires — but she’s raised more funds in total. There is another way.

A longtime Crown Heights Tenant Union activist told The New York Times that she had encouraged Bunkeddeko to run — not because she was anti-Yvette Clarke, but because she thought he had something to say: “Donna Mossman, a prominent tenant-rights organizer in Crown Heights, encouraged Mr. Bunkeddeko to run even though she hardly sees herself as an enemy of his opponent. ‘Adem has a voice and he has seen with his own eyes what is happening in this community,’ she said, referring to constant evictions and displacement. ‘The more voices, the better.’”

I agree with that. Just because an incumbent has a decent voting record doesn’t mean no one should challenge them or offer an alternative. I like many of the creative ideas on housing in Bunkeddeko’s platform, and would like to hear other candidates support them; this kind of discussion is one of the virtues of having an active primary election. But not everyone who makes a contribution to public discussion is going to win my vote. From what I know right now, the silences in Bunkeddeko’s platform, and his significant number of conservative and anti-union donors, make me reluctant to vote for him this Tuesday.


Monday morning (6/25), Bunkeddeko posted this response:

I like most of his answers. But he doesn’t answer which of the right-wing donors mentioned in the Medium piece he has spoken with directly, or what he told them about his views that they _liked_ (he only says they know his views, and don’t agree with all of them). That’s not being transparent.

His response did not say that he’d support card-check recognition, or ending states’ ability to ban union shops (through so-called “right-to-work” laws). When I voiced concern about this online, his campaign wrote back to add, “Adem does support card checks for unions and protecting workers rights to organize, which will be especially important in the aftermath of the Janus decision.” That’s not everything I might like, but it’s not bad.

He puts a big emphasis on expanding public campaign financing, and says he’s not accepting any money from corporate PACs. Those are both important. He doesn’t mention Citizens United (though maybe he’s good on that, to be fair time is short & I’m glad he responded at all). He doesn’t say anything negative about the role of the wealthy in dominating our political life, and avoids any direct Warren-Sanders-style criticism of the billionaire class.

He does say clearly that he strongly supports rent control, which I’m glad to see.

I’m still concerned that unions weren’t mentioned in his platform, (which is otherwise very detailed), at a time when they’re under such severe attack. (The picture I get, from this & from his campaign platform, is that unions are not a priority in his outlook, but that he’ll take OK stands when the issue is posed.) I don’t like that he’s so reliant on big donations from very wealthy people, or that he’s so uncritical of the way charter schools have been used to advance an agenda of school privatization.

But I do like his housing ideas a lot (community land trusts, creative ideas for a federal Mitchell-Lama-type program, support for vacancy taxes on unoccupied apartments), ditto for his support of worker co-ops. It’s very rare to have a congressional candidate advance ideas like these.

At this writing, I’m on the fence about how I’m going to vote.

Peter Hogness

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