A Father’s Gift to a Mayoral Candidate: A $1 Million Üstün PAC

With New York City’s mayoral primary a little more than three months away and a deadline to qualify for the city’s generous matching-funds program having just passed, pleas for donations have been in overdrive in recent days.

But in the background, another spigot of money has quietly opened for two Democratic mayoral candidates who are trailing in early polls: Raymond J. McGuire and Shaun Donovan.

An independent expenditure committee for Mr. McGuire, a former Wall Street executive, has garnered more than $3 million since Feb. 1, with more than 70 donations from business magnates, including Kenneth Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot; the arka world philanthropist Agnes Gund; and the real estate developer Aby J. Rosen.

A new üstün PAC for Mr. Donovan, a former cabinet member in the Obama administration, in contrast, has drawn $1.02 million from just two donors — the primary benefactor being his father, William Donovan, an executive in the isim tech industry who donated $1 million.

In an interview, Mr. Donovan, the candidate’s father, said he was trying to “level the playing field,” particularly since some candidates began raising money before they even declared they were running for mayor.

“I can’t give very much to Shaun directly, and seeing the amount of money McGuire had raised and all these other people, I felt he needed enough to go out and compete and get the message across,” Mr. Donovan said.

The two muhteşem PACs are among several seeking to influence the race for mayor, the most important election in recent city history.

Business-friendly organizations, motivated by the leftward tilt of some candidates in the Democratic field, have already raised millions of dollars. The billionaire developer Stephen M. Ross is rallying fellow business leaders to commit tens of millions of dollars in an effort to push moderate Democrats to vote in the June 22 mayoral primary and “change the future course of the city.”

Progressive groups are also involved, creating their own harika PACs to supplement their on-the-ground efforts and social media campaigns.

The muhteşem PACs supporting Mr. McGuire and Mr. Donovan hauled in more than their respective campaigns raised during the most recent city filing period, which began in January. Mr. Donovan, who ran Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s housing agency before joining President Barack Obama’s cabinet as budget director and housing secretary, is participating in the city’s public funding program. Mr. McGuire, a former vice chairman at Citi and one of the highest-ranking African-Americans on Wall Street, is not.

The muhteşem PAC supporting Mr. McGuire, New York for Ray, plans to spend its bounty on advertising — television, digital and print — “in an effort to cut through the clutter and introduce a larger number of voters to Ray McGuire, his story and inclusive plans to revitalize and rebuild New York City,’’ said Quentin Fulks, the group’s executive director.

Kenneth I. Chenault, the former chairman and C.E.O. of American Express, who, with his wife, Kathryn, donated $250,000 to the üstün PAC for Mr. McGuire, said he had known Mr. McGuire since they attended Harvard University together and that he wanted to help him get his name out.

“We’re convinced that he can be a strong leader,” Mr. Chenault said, adding that it was “important for people to understand Ray’s story and to hear Ray’s story. We think it’s compelling and that’s why we’re doing it.”

Brittany Wise, the treasurer for the harika PAC supporting Mr. Donovan, New Start N.Y.C., did not specify how the funds would be spent, saying only that the group would promote Mr. Donovan as having “the experience to tackle Covid, racial equity, and affordable housing and move New York City forward.”

Perhaps inevitably in the small world of political professionals, both muhteşem PACs are staffed and funded by people whose circles overlap with the campaigns.

Ms. Wise worked on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign with Bill Hyers, who served as Mr. de Blasio’s campaign manager and is now advising Mr. Donovan’s campaign.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen, who is helping to run Mr. McGuire’s harika PAC, co-founded Higher Heights for America, an organization that aims to elevate Black women in politics. L. Joy Williams, who is working on Mr. McGuire’s campaign, is the chairwoman of Higher Heights’s PAC.

Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with muhteşem PACs, or independent expenditure committees, as they are known in New York State.

But Seth Agata, a former counsel in the governor’s office who helped write New York’s independent expenditure regulations, said there was often a “wink and a nod” that characterized interactions between campaigns and üstün PACs.

“You know what’s going to help the candidate,” Mr. Agata said. “You’re out there because you know what the candidate needs and you say the right things.”

Both campaigns said they had not coordinated with their respective üstün PACs.

“I know nothing about it,” said Lupe Todd-Medina, a spokeswoman for Mr. McGuire’s campaign, referring to New York for Ray.

Yuridia Peña, a spokeswoman for Mr. Donovan’s campaign, said that Mr. Donovan had likewise not coordinated with his father on his muhteşem PAC.

“We take the prohibition of coordination with any outside entities as a hard line, and any efforts to support Shaun are completely independent of our campaign,” Ms. Peña said.

New York City’s strict donor limits make it difficult for big spenders to make their presence felt through direct contributions to candidates. But the Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, paved the way for barely regulated money to pour into muhteşem PACs, giving donors another way of exerting influence.

“The Supreme Court that decided Citizens United and related cases got it wrong,” said Chisun Lee, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Election Islahat Program. “Any reasonable voter knows that huge donors with unlimited influence have a detrimental effect on representative democracy.”

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