Big money in the 19th
With the election inching ever closer, the money is being spent hand over fist in races all over the country, and the spending in New York’s 19th Congressional District is being juiced by a lot of money from political action committees (PACs) and super PACs.
Super PACs didn’t really exist before 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in several five-to-four rulings that wealthy groups and individuals are allowed to spend and collect unlimited funds to influence the outcomes of elections.
The contest in the 19th at this point is neck and neck between Republican John Faso, a lobbyist and former state Assembly speaker, and Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who ran against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a primary two years ago.
A Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll released at the end of September had Faso getting 43% of likely voters and Teachout getting 42%.
So who is giving them money and what do they want in return?
Not surprisingly, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $813,415 trying to help Faso and hurt Teachout, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $285,425 trying to help Teachout and hurt Faso. Both of these organizations are openly partisan, and it’s clear what they want.
A super PAC called Congressional Leadership Fund, with a mission to keep a Republican majority in Congress, has spent $1,621,348 in opposition to Teachout. It’s also pretty clear what this organization wants.
One of the facts that has been reported in stories across the country is that two hedge fund billionaires, Robert Mercer and Paul Singer, each plowed more than $500,000 into the super PAC New York Win, which supports Faso. So, what do hedge fund billionaires want? It’s a safe bet they would like to keep the special tax rules that hedge fund managers enjoy but the rest of us can’t benefit from. It’s also safe to assume they want to continue to be able to use their enormous wealth as they please regarding the shaping of the national political scene.
Teachout has vowed to fight to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which could bring back limits on how much money individuals can sink into the political system. In fact, a PAC called End Citizens United has spent a lot of money on behalf of Teachout. The group has spent $82,244 supporting Teachout and $279,244 opposing Faso.
The group says on its website, “Corporations are NOT people and secrecy has no place in American campaigns. We support efforts to enact a constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. F.E.C., McCutcheon v. F.E.C., and related cases, and give Congress and states the power to regulate campaign finance.”
Faso has said he would not change the current system because it would be a violation of free speech. Clearly he is one of many wealthy and influential people in the country who don’t seem to understand the difference between speech and money.
In fact, Faso’s campaign and his allies have attacked Teachout for accepting an endorsement from Every Voice Action, a 501(c)(4) organization backed by the family of billionaire George Soros, while campaigning against super PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations, which do not have to report who gave them money. The group supports a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Faso’s allies have called Teachout a hypocrite.
But that charge is more than a little disingenuous. Would anyone really expect Teachout to unilaterally disarm when the weaponry of her opponent is being supercharged by billionaire hedge fund managers?
In other races this year, End Citizens United is spending money in opposition to a handful of Senate and House candidates, but is spending in support of only one other congressional candidate, Democrat Jason Kander, who is running for a Senate seat against Missouri Republican Roy Blunt in a surprisingly strong effort.
Kander’s stand in Citizens United may be part of his appeal. He was recently reported by poltico.com as describing Blunt as a politician “who really, after 20 years in Washington, has become very focused on doing whatever the special interests who’ve funded his campaigns and his lifestyle ask him to do.”
It’s clear that a large majority of U.S. citizens are opposed to the Citizens United decision and support efforts to overturn it. In one poll released by Bloomberg News in October 2015 found that 80% of Republicans oppose it, 83% of Democrats, and 71% of independents.
If Faso loses this race, it may well be because of his position on money in national politics.