The amount Kirsten Gillibrand and Sandy Treadwell are spending on their campaign for the 20th Congressional District seat so far this year is the second highest in the nation for a House race, according to both the Federal Election Commission and a campaign watchdog Web site.
As of Monday, the two campaigns have spent a total of $9.2 million in the race for the seat that Gillibrand holds, which takes in most of Saratoga and part of Rensselaer counties. Nationally, it’s second only to the $9.3 million spent by two candidates seeking the Illinois seat once held by Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the House.
The Gillibrand-Treadwell race is also the most expensive campaign for Congress in New York state this year.
The Federal Election Commission tracks candidate fundraising and spending and updates the figures daily on the Web site www.fec.gov.
The nonpartisan political watchdog Web site, opensecrets.org, which is an arm of the national Center for Responsive Politics, reports on campaign fundraising around the country and does the analysis on the numbers provided by the Election Commission.
Incumbent Democrat Gillibrand’s campaign had raised almost $4.5 million while Republican challenger Treadwell’s total raised was $6.9 million. Treadwell has contributed more than $5.9 million to his campaign while Gillibrand has given her campaign just $250, according to the filings. The rest of Gillibrand’s money comes from individual contributions and political action committees.
By comparison, the neighboring 21st Congressional District race between Democrat Paul Tonko and Republican James Buhrmaster has not resulted in even $1 million in spending by the two candidates. That district includes all of Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Schoharie counties and parts of Fulton, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.
Tonko’s campaign financing totaled $517,314 and Buhrmaster had $456,385 to spend.
With a week to go before Election Day, Gillibrand still had $886,446 left to spend Monday while her Republican challenger had $1.3 million. Spokespersons for both campaigns said most of the money will be spent on television advertising.
University at Albany political science professor Joseph Zimmerman said he’s been watching the 20th Congressional District race closely and he’s concerned about the amount of money being spent.
“I’m especially concerned about the amount of money [Treadwell] has spent on his own campaign,” he said Monday afternoon.
Zimmerman serves on the executive committee of the American Political Science Association’s section on Representation and Electoral Systems, where he was chairman for several years.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing congressional candidates to spend as much of their own money as they want on their own campaigns has created an imbalance.
“The Supreme Court decision says if the candidates aren’t allowed to spend their own money, it abridges their freedom of speech rights,” Zimmerman said. “But that corrupts the political system and can be [an impediment] to the ordinary person being elected. It’s possible that the person spending the most money can get elected.”
Commission spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said the commission audits the financial aspects of the campaigns and investigates complaints when they are filed.
“We make sure regulations are followed,” she said.
Brandenberger said she did not know if any complaints had been filed in this year’s campaigns for the 20th Congressional seat.
“I couldn’t say if there have or haven’t been complaints. I would need to know the name of the complainant to look into a specific matter,” she said.