A number of people working on competing campaigns have made one of my businesses — Tusk Strategies — an issue in this year’s New York City mayoral election. Obviously, this is happening because their candidates and campaigns are behind in the polls and they’re looking for anything that can stick (I’m familiar with how this stuff works). But nonetheless, it raises questions of how Tusk Strategies will operate if Andrew Yang wins the mayoralty. Here’s what we’re going to do:
(1). If we win, I will not lobby or talk with the new mayor — nor anyone in a Yang administration — on any matter that intersects with our work. This includes Tusk Strategies, Tusk Venture Partners, the Ivory Gaming Acquisition Corporation or any other business interest we have.
(2). Tusk employees (including me) will not raise any money for any Yang-related entity for the entirety of his time at City Hall, including his 2025 mayoral re-election, his inauguration (including the first term), any political action committees, the Fund for the City of New York or any other cause Mayor Yang champions.
(3). We will disclose everything. There are longstanding rules already around what type of work needs to be disclosed in lobbying registrations and what does not. But rather than getting into semantics around things like being an “agent of the city”, if you are a client of Tusk Strategies or a partner on any other business we have and your issue means our interacting with the City of New York in any way, we will go above and beyond the existing rules and register as a lobbyist, regardless of the type of work we’re doing, regardless whether it’s required or not.¹
(4). We will hold a weekly meeting between outside counsel and Tusk employees to discuss any issues, ideas, concerns or questions around their work regarding the City of New York and create an open channel for anyone on our team to ask questions or receive advice at any time, day or night. We will also seek and publish an opinion from counsel pre-inauguration laying out exactly what consultants and lobbyists can and can’t do and we will follow it.²
I haven’t worked on a mayoral election since we won back in 2009.³ My time is generally spent on work outside of politics and outside of New York: our venture capital funds, funding and running the national effort around mobile voting, funding and running campaigns in multiple states to alleviate childhood hunger, chairing a publicly traded company in the digital gaming space, our podcast Firewall, our Fast Company column, the Gotham Book Prize, the bookstore and podcast studio we’re opening on the Lower East Side, teaching at Columbia Business School, and two new books. We took on this campaign because we looked at the crisis facing this city, looked at the options of viable candidates and knew we could do a lot better.
I love New York City. I was born here. I live here. We’re raising our kids here. My business is based here. Much of my philanthropy is focused on New York. I teach here. I volunteer here. I’m even opening a bookstore here. There’s simply too much at stake for my family and for every family in this city to put our fate in the hands of career politicians or incompetent ideologues. We need someone with bold ideas, someone who inspires people, someone who has had the pressure of having to make payroll every two weeks, someone tough enough to tell people no, someone who can govern free from political constraints. We need someone exactly like Andrew Yang. That’s why I’m involved in the campaign and it’s why I strongly believe he is the best choice to lead this city.
None of the steps outlined above — the ban on fundraising, extra disclosure, constant contact with outside experts, my recusal from any business involving New York City — is required by law or practice. I know this announcement still won’t end the attacks on me, my firm or my employees since the people leveling the attacks don’t actually care about any of the issues listed above in the first place. But to the extent there are any legitimate questions about my role should we be fortunate enough to win this election, this should answer them.
¹ For whatever it’s worth, lobbying comprises less than 10% of Tusk Strategies revenue, New York is just one of dozens of markets we work in, and Tusk Strategies is only one part of Tusk Holdings. Tusk Strategies develops and runs big, multi-faceted campaigns that typically occur in multiple jurisdictions at the same time. The constant depiction of us as a lobbying firm is just lazy.
² If you don’t believe me that we will follow the rules religiously, look into what happened when I was the Deputy Governor of Illinois and Rod Blagojevich asked me to extort Rahm and Ari Emanuel. Instead of following orders, I reported it and put a stop to it.
³I did lead the (failed) effort to try to stop Bill de Blasio from winning a second term and have probably been de Blasio’s most vocal critic throughout his mayoralty. If I were making business decisions based on what’s good for our lobbying work, I wouldn’t have done that. Whether it’s trying to end political dysfunction through mobile voting, supporting a visionary like Andrew Yang, funding the effort to create universal school breakfast, investing in startups that disrupt industries in desperate need of improvement or anything else, I do what I believe is right and I take the slings and arrows that come with it. If being attacked publicly is the price I have to pay to help ensure New York City has a good mayor, so be it.