Outside Groups Pour Campaign Cash Into N.Y. Districts

Three House GOP primaries this cycle have each drawn more outside money than all New York congressional primaries did in 2012.

Jason Furman (R), chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, greets Sen. Richard Hanna (R-NY) (L) before testifying during a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Furman stressed that the economic recovery is strong despite the manufactured crises in Congress, but that it is too soon to say whether the brinksmanship of the government shutdown will have drastic consequences.   
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
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Jack Fitzpatrick
June 23, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

New York has seen more than its share of ex­pens­ive elec­tions. But this year’s Re­pub­lic­an House primar­ies have taken the state’s big-money polit­ics to a level not seen be­fore.

There’s the scuffle on Long Is­land’s moneyed east­ern half, which fea­tures a self-fund­ing mil­lion­aire, two per­son­al su­per PACs, and an­oth­er pair of out­side groups all bat­tling in a two-man Re­pub­lic­an primary.

Farther north, the best-known GOP su­per PAC has spent hun­dreds of thou­sands slam­ming a GOP can­did­ate it once in­dir­ectly aided a few elec­tions back.

And same-sex mar­riage has be­come the ma­jor point of con­ten­tion (and spend­ing) between out­side groups in an­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an race.

Any single one of these primary races has at­trac­ted far more out­side spend­ing than all of the state’s top House primar­ies in 2012 com­bined. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, out­side groups this cycle have spent more than $1.75 mil­lion in the 1st Dis­trict, where Re­pub­lic­ans Lee Zeld­in and George Demos are com­pet­ing for the nom­in­a­tion; nearly $1.2 mil­lion in the 21st Dis­trict, where re­peat can­did­ate Matt Do­heny is un­der at­tack from the Amer­ic­an Cross­roads su­per PAC; and nearly $900,000 in the 22nd Dis­trict, where Rep. Richard Hanna is one of the few GOP con­gress­men who back same-sex mar­riage.

In 2012, New York’s most ex­pens­ive primar­ies cost out­side groups about $120,000 each in a pair of New York City dis­tricts.

Of all these can­did­ates, former Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion pro­sec­utor Demos has the most money be­hind him. But most of it has come from wealthy — and lib­er­al — fam­ily mem­bers, lead­ing to an ava­lanche of bad press. Demos loaned his cam­paign $2 mil­lion of his own money, which came largely from mar­ry­ing in­to the fam­ily of An­gelo Tsako­poulos, a Cali­for­nia real-es­tate de­veloper and long­time busi­ness part­ner of Paul Pelosi, hus­band of House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi.

That con­nec­tion led Zeld­in and his out­side al­lies — the Amer­ic­an Ac­tion Net­work and the U.S. Jobs Coun­cil — to run TV ads link­ing Demos to Cali­for­nia Demo­crats, fre­quently call­ing him a “Pelosi Re­pub­lic­an.” The chor­us only grew louder as Demos got more help. Tsako­poulos fun­ded Amer­ic­ans for Com­mon Sense, a su­per PAC that has spent more than $850,000 back­ing Demos, while the lib­er­al group Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity USA has at­tacked Zeld­in as part of its pro­gram of med­dling in GOP primar­ies this year.

Zeld­in called Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity’s in­volve­ment “totally in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and said Demo­crats want him to lose the primary be­cause he is the stronger can­did­ate in the gen­er­al elec­tion against Demo­crat­ic Rep. Tim Bish­op, who barely won in 2010 and 2012. No mat­ter what, Zeld­in will be on the bal­lot in the fall on the Con­ser­vat­ive Party line; if Demos wins the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion, the two can­did­ates will split anti-Bish­op votes and likely al­low the in­cum­bent to win eas­ily. Zeld­in also cri­ti­cized Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity’s at­tempts to cast him as a tea-party ex­trem­ist, des­pite his sup­port from mod­er­ate es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans.

“It’s hy­po­crisy that they’re even in­volved, and es­pe­cially that they’re us­ing this par­tic­u­lar mes­saging,” Zeld­in said.

“We ex­pect that these can­did­ates will howl and make up all kinds of silly ex­cuses when we talk about them,” Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity USA Pres­id­ent Craig Varoga said in an email.

Amer­ic­an Ac­tion Net­work com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Dan Con­ston said that lib­er­als’ spend­ing against Zeld­in was ac­tu­ally a good sign for the cam­paign, in­dic­at­ing that he’s the one who scares Demo­crats the most in a gen­er­al elec­tion. But Con­ston said the sheer size of the funds back­ing Demos made his group feel “it was ne­ces­sary to get in­volved and to help equal­ize out the spend­ing and en­sure that Zeld­in gets through the primary.”

New York City-based hedge-fund man­ager Robert Mer­cer also stepped in to back Zeld­in, donat­ing $200,000 to the U.S. Jobs Coun­cil, a su­per PAC foun­ded earli­er this year that has fo­cused solely on this race. The group has con­tin­ued the “Pelosi Re­pub­lic­an” re­frain, at­tempt­ing to turn Demos’s fin­an­cial ad­vant­age against him.

“If it’s do­ing well, we want to pound them on that is­sue,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chair­man of the Michigan Re­pub­lic­an Party who foun­ded the group.

Anuzis ad­ded that this kind of sin­gu­larly fo­cused su­per PAC, like the ones that formed to back Pres­id­ent Obama and Mitt Rom­ney in 2012, is be­com­ing more and more com­mon in smal­ler cam­paigns.

Zeld­in isn’t the only can­did­ate howl­ing about out­side groups get­ting in­volved in races where they aren’t wel­come. In the 21st Dis­trict, Amer­ic­an Cross­roads spent more than $750,000 run­ning neg­at­ive TV ads against Do­heny, the only time this cycle the group has gone neg­at­ive against a fel­low Re­pub­lic­an. Cross­roads has run three TV ads so far cri­ti­ciz­ing Do­heny for two sep­ar­ate charges of boat­ing while in­tox­ic­ated in 2004 and for fail­ing to pay rent for a New York City apart­ment. Do­heny faces es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite Elise Stefanik, a 29-year-old former Bush White House aide.

Do­heny has run two times be­fore: In 2011, as Do­heny was ramp­ing up his second cam­paign against Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bill Owens, Cross­roads’ non­profit arm ran TV ads weak­en­ing the in­cum­bent. The name re­cog­ni­tion he had from his pre­vi­ous cam­paigns might have been the biggest factor in the primary — un­til Cross­roads star­ted pour­ing money on his head.

Do­heny spokes­man Dav­id Catal­famo said the ads only un­der­score Do­heny’s ar­gu­ment that he’s the true loc­al, while Stefanik is a Wash­ing­ton in­sider. “Neither can­did­ate would be bad for the Re­pub­lic­an brand,” Catal­famo said. “Why are they get­ting in­volved? Be­cause she’s part of [the] Wash­ing­ton crowd and they want her to be their con­gressper­son.”

Catal­famo ad­ded that he ex­pects a back­lash among Cross­roads donors who don’t want their money spent against a Re­pub­lic­an. “People are donat­ing to them think­ing they’re tak­ing down the pres­id­ent,” he said.

New York 2014, a su­per PAC headed by 2006 gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate John Faso, has also sup­por­ted Stefanik on the the­ory that she’d be stronger in this fall’s gen­er­al elec­tion. The group has spent nearly $375,000 sup­port­ing Stefanik, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

“Not tak­ing any­thing away from [Do­heny], but we felt that she’s a stronger gen­er­al elec­tion can­did­ate,” Faso said.

While the dis­putes in the 1st and 21st dis­tricts are between can­did­ates with few policy dif­fer­ences, the 22nd Dis­trict is a rare case in which same-sex mar­riage is the pivotal is­sue between two Re­pub­lic­ans. Amer­ic­an Unity PAC, which backs Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­port same-sex mar­riage, has spent more than $650,000 ham­mer­ing Hanna’s op­pon­ent, As­semb­ly­wo­man Claudia Ten­ney. The less well-fun­ded Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Mar­riage has spent slightly more than $20,000 sup­port­ing the more so­cially con­ser­vat­ive Ten­ney.

The dis­trict is roughly evenly split between Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, but Hanna does not face a Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger — only a primary chal­lenge from Ten­ney. Hanna has a sig­ni­fic­ant fin­an­cial ad­vant­age, spend­ing more than five times as much as Ten­ney as of early June, plus hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars spent by Amer­ic­an Unity, Pat­ri­ot Prosper­ity PAC, and the Re­pub­lic­an Main­street Part­ner­ship.

That fin­an­cial ad­vant­age isn’t lost on the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Mar­riage. Spokes­man Bri­an Brown said the group has sent mail ads say­ing that Hanna is “ba­sic­ally a li­ar” be­cause he has pro­moted him­self as a true con­ser­vat­ive while gar­ner­ing sup­port for tak­ing a lib­er­al po­s­i­tion on same-sex mar­riage.

“He’s now got Paul Sing­er and Amer­ic­an Unity PAC do­ing dirty work pro­mot­ing him as a con­ser­vat­ive,” Brown said, “and not men­tion­ing he sup­ports gay mar­riage, and that’s the only reas­on Amer­ic­an Unity is run­ning these ads.”

Amer­ic­an Unity of­fi­cials did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Scott Bland contributed to this article.
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