Albany Agenda

Yi Andy Chen posted some jaw-dropping fundraising numbers in bid to unseat Ron Kim. Are they too good to be true?

The aspiring Assembly member amended his filing four times, and seems to have accepted multiple donations above the legal contribution limit.

Yi Andy Chen shared his impressive fundraising numbers on social media.

Yi Andy Chen shared his impressive fundraising numbers on social media. Screengrab, Andy Chen on X

In his first bid for the Assembly, entrepreneur Yi Andy Chen raised a monumental $289,000 since he launched his campaign in November. That’s more than any non-incumbent running for Assembly – by a lot. It’s also more than non-incumbents running for more expensive state Senate seats, and a larger sum even than many incumbents likely to see competitive races this year.

Chen is running in the Democratic primary against Assembly Member Ron Kim for the 40th District in Queens. Kim narrowly won reelection in 2022 after a Republican challenge from Sharon Liao. After losing a competitive Democratic primary for New York City Council in 2021, Chen has now shifted to the state Legislature in his bid to unseat Kim. 

Chen’s fundraising documents do raise some questions, however. He filed his disclosure on Jan. 19, three days after the deadline, when his initial paperwork reflected a little over $160,000 raised. Two days later on Jan. 21, Chen filed amended disclosures that showed he raised nearly $292,000 since launching his campaign. A second amendment the same day brought the total down to about $290,000. Two final adjustments came on Jan. 22, placing his fundraising total at slightly under $289,000. 

Amending financial disclosures after filing to address mistakes is common practice, but they don’t usually reflect a $130,000 difference in fundraising numbers. Tom Speaker, legislative director at the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said that seeing such a large discrepancy between the initial filing and the amendments is not typical. “Usually, from what I know, when there are changes made to filings that are for small things and attributions, and are usually not six-figure changes in the totals,” Speaker said. 

Chen’s campaign manager Clifford Temprosa said the amendments were a result of a technical error with the online filing system. “As we were filing, as we were inputting, a lot of the transactions didn’t save, and that’s kind of how we have that discrepancy,” Temprosa said, adding that the numbers the Board of Elections released didn’t match their internal tally. “Once we saw there was a discrepancy, we kind of worked through the weekend to sort that out.” 

The same day as the last amendment, Chen boasted about his stellar fundraising on social media. “People Powered Movements are about the strength, bravery, and the courageousness of the people to make their voices heard with dignity and integrity, and I am humbled by the outpour of support I have received from within the hardworking communities of District 40,” Chen wrote in a post on X advertising his first campaign haul. His committee received many donations from within the district, but also many from outside both the district and the state. Temprosa noted that Chen’s campaign has drawn broad support from allies across the country, especially from members of the Fujianese community to which Chen belongs. “We were just in shock as well, but we were really, really humbled by the support,” Temprosa said.

Of the money raised by Chen, about half came from 38 donations of $5,000 or $3,000. The $5,000 donations accounted for $70,000 of Chen’s contributions, while $3,000 donations made up another $72,000. The number of individual donors is likely also less than 38 based on a review of donations. At least one donor appeared to give $5,000 and $3,000 on separate occasions, and at least four donations from a business shared a residential address with an individual donor.

Several of the top donors that gave $5,000 were businesses listed as partnerships, which are treated the same as individuals in the eyes of the law. For contributions of more than $2,500, campaigns must name individuals within the partnership. Those donations would count toward the individual’s contribution limit. The Chen campaign did not include that information in the filing, but the individuals associated with the partnerships are recorded as making separate donations as well that would put their contribution over the legal limit. Normally, campaigns file businesses as corporations, which are subject to different rules. Corporations require no attributions, so donations made by those businesses have no impact on donations made by the individual business owner.

The Chen campaign also appeared to improperly file information about at least four LLCs, including one that gave $5,000. His campaign listed each of those entities as a partnership, the incorrect way to file an LLC, and also did not include the names of people with interests in those LLCs, a requirement in disclosures.

Under state law, the max contribution limit for an Assembly primary is $3,000, with another $3,000 allowed for the general election. That means that Chen can’t use all of the donations he received during the primary – and would have to use some of his funds in the general if he makes it that far. It also means that he may need to return several thousand dollars worth of donations at the very least for donors that appear to have given more than the $6,000 limit for the whole cycle. For example, Chen’s campaign would need to refund $2,000 to the donor who gave a total of $8,000 in order to comply with legal contribution limits.

Speaker said that apparent irregularities with some of the highest-dollar donations are at best “extremely sloppy accounting, and at worst it’s extremely suspicious.” He said that at minimum, he would hope that the Board of Elections would review the donations, and that the campaign would return any improper or excess donations.

Asked about the irregularities, Temprosa said that the campaign did not have any donations of $5,000 from individuals, an assertion unsupported by the financial disclosure. He acknowledged that with the large number of contributions and high fundraising totals, human error in reporting may occur, and said the campaign is committed to reviewing and correcting any mistakes. “We're happy to take a look and do another amendment regarding that” Temprosa said. He noted that many on the campaign are dealing with the state campaign finance portal for the first time. “We want to do the community justice, but then also make sure that we have all of our shoes laced up and everything in order,” Temprosa said.

Regardless, Chen’s fundraising prowess is impressive. He didn’t even have a full website launched until Monday, after announcing his inaugural war chest. Chen outraised even other high-performing non-incumbent Assembly candidates by over $200,000. In the competitive race to replace retiring Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, Eli Northrup raised the most among those candidates with $83,000 after announcing his campaign in November. Before Chen filed, Northrup said he raised the most out of any Assembly non-incumbent. 

By comparison, Kim – the incumbent in the race – raised $75,000 in roughly the same period as Chen. “Assembly Member Kim is laser focused on serving his constituents, fighting hate, enhancing public safety, providing housing affordability and improving the lives of middle class Queens families,” a spokesperson for Kim’s campaign said in a statement. “The voters know that Assembly Member Kim continues to deliver for his community, and that’s why they continue to support him.”

Chen has also outraised candidates for state Senate, campaigns that cost more money than Assembly races. Assembly Member Taylor Darling, the closest thing to an incumbent a non-incumbent can get, raised a little under $102,000 since launching her state Senate campaign in August. Former state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick raised a little over $77,000 so far in his bid to reclaim his old seat. Even the impressive $128,000 raised by first-time candidate Kim Keiserman for her Long Island state Senate bid.