Campaign contributions flowing from outside the Capital Region into three local state Legislature races have some candidates and good government advocates crying foul.
The geographic source of campaign funds is a major distinction among the candidates in those races: the 110th Assembly District, where five people want to replace retiring Assemblyman Bob Reilly; the 43rd Senate District, where incumbent Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, is facing a primary challenge; and in the 46th Senate District, which is the newly created 63rd seat in the Senate and stretches from Montgomery County to Ulster County. In each of these races, at least one candidate gets almost half of their funds from individuals, political action committees, businesses or campaigns with ZIP codes outside the Capital Region, based on campaign finance filings since July.
In the 110th Assembly District, Democratic hopeful Kevin Frazier has raised about $85,944, with about 46 percent of it coming from outside the Capital Region. Second to him is Democrat Tim Nichols, who raised about 71 percent of his $14,697 from local contributors.
Republican candidate Jennifer Whalen, who has raised about $40,448, with 95 percent from inside the region, said the source of funds is important because it can determine who a candidate represents. When a candidate relies on money from outside the region, she said those interests will generally come first.
In the case of Frazier, who receives a large portion of his outside contributions from New York City sources, Whalen said, “I don’t know what interest those downstate supporters have in improving the Capital Region economy.”
This sentiment was echoed by Nichols, who said outside money will drown out local voices.
In defense of his campaign’s fundraising practices, Frazier said a lot of his out-of-the-region support comes from organizations that represent first responders and that all the contributions are used to reach voters in his district.
“My first priority — my only priority — will be to the people I represent,” Frazier said.
The other two candidates, Democrats Phil Steck and Joe Landry, have raised about three-quarters of their money from within the Capital Region.
McDonald is no stranger to receiving money from outside his district, based on a record amount of contributions last year following his vote in favor of same-sex marriage.
In the latest filings since January, McDonald has raised about $239,393, with almost 49 percent of that money coming from outside the Capital Region or from unspecified sources.
Mike Veitch, McDonald’s spokesman, noted that the campaign has received contributions from inside and outside the region as the result of the candidate’s independent nature and his record.
He contrasted it with the fundraising of his Republican primary opponent, Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione. “The senator’s opponent has received nearly a quarter of her money from [local developer Bruce Tanski] who was the subject of a formal Board of Elections complaint for potentially making illegal contributions,” Veitch said.
A complaint was made against Tanski in 2011 when he exceeded contribution limits in his donations to an incumbent town supervisor candidate.
Marchione spokesman Ken Girardin said that her campaign was proud of the support they’ve received in the area and characterized the McDonald campaign’s focus on Tanski as bizarre, arguing he is an upstanding member of the community who has given to McDonald as recently as December 2011.
Marchione has raised about $155,500, with about 30 percent from outside the region.
“She’s not beholden to any special interest,” Girardin said. “She’s always put her constituents first.”
In the 46th Senate District, two candidates have received almost half of their money from outside the Capital Region.
Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, has brought in about $300,259, of which about 52 percent is local. Democratic hopeful Cecilia Tkaczyk has raised about $102,073, with about 55 percent coming from inside the Capital Region. These breakdowns are in stark contrast to the other two candidates.
Democrats Monica M. Arias Miranda and Thomas Dolan have both gotten more than 90 percent of their money locally. However, both Amedore and Tkaczyk have each raised more money from local sources than double Miranda and Dolan’s combined total.
Miranda has been critical of Amedore and Tkacyk for their fundraising sources, questioning whom they would be loyal to if they were elected. “If you have New York City [interests], who are continuing to fund the people being elected into office, are those legislators representing us or the people who are funding them, who are from New York City?” she wondered.
Amedore defended his fundraising on the ground that it helps him get his message out to voters in the district through advertisements and campaign activities, which can be expensive. He also stressed his loyalty to the district, saying, “I plan on being responsible and responsive to those voters.”
He added that contributors have given so much and from all over to him because his message as a small businessman resonates with a lot of people.
Tkaczyk criticized the loopholes that allow big donors from all over the state to influence far-away elections, but did not address criticism aimed at her own campaign about accepting money from outside the region.
Follow the money
Defending her fundraising was Jess Wisneski, the legislative and campaigns director for the progressive advocacy group Citizen Action of New York, who lamented the political realities that forced Tkaczyk to seek money outside the region. She said that current fundraising regulations require candidates to go where the money is, especially when facing a fundraising behemoth like Amedore, who has about three times Tkaczyk’s money. “It’s the way that system works right now,” Wisneski said.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong,” she said. “But because it is the current system, voters need to be aware of [where money is coming from].”
Wisneski added that outside money typically flows in during more competitive races, which applies to these three races.
Democrat Robin Andrews, who is running in the 43rd Senate District, where there is a large Republican enrollment advantage, has gotten about 43 percent of her money from outside the region.
In the re-election bids of state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenvillle, where there are big Republican enrollment advantages and only token Democratic opposition, money has mostly come from the Capital Region. About 75 percent of Farley’s money and 66 percent of Tedisco’s money comes from local contributors, although they have been required to raise much less money than candidates need in competitive races.
Wisneski also acknowledged there is a distinction between candidates who receive a few large contributions from outside the Capital Region and candidates who receive a large proportion of their money from out of the region, but in smaller increments from more donors. About 20 percent of Amedore’s donors, 34 percent of Frazier’s donors and 13 percent of Marchione’s donors are from outside the Capital Region, but their contributions make up a much larger percentage of each’s total fundraising.
Relying on funding from beyond local supporters is not a new phenomenon in New York politics. New York Public Interest Research Group’s Bill Mahoney said a reliance on out-of-district donors is likely a reflection of the state’s contribution limits, which allows candidates to seek large donations from a few donors instead of small contributions from many local donors. For Senate candidates with a primary race an individual can give $16,800 and for Assembly candidates with a primary race an individual can give $8,200.
The result is that special interests, generally located in other parts of the state, get to spread their influence in races where they have no stake in local issues.
Mahoney wants to see lower contribution limits that would be instituted as part of a public financing system. He proposed emphasizing local constituents by matching their contributions with state money, which would mitigate the outside influence.
This system was also endorsed by Citizen Action’s Wisneski, who wanted to match every local dollar with a $6 contribution from the state. She said this was the only way to break from the status quo in campaign fundraising, which routinely sees big money interests from outside a legislative race swinging an election. The call for reform was echoed by Miranda, Tkaczyk, Frazier and Nichols.
How the money breaks down in the political races discussed in this story is explained in the Capital Region Scene at dailygazette.com.