Spurring campaign finance reform via ads funded by wealthy, out-of-district political action committees may sound contradictory, but that’s essentially the goal of two organizations poised to spend more than $500,000 in supporting the state Senate campaign of Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk.
The money pledged toward her cause by the two downstate super PACs — Friends of Democracy and Protect Our Democracy — will fund television advertisements and a direct mailing supporting Tkaczyk as the race for the newly drawn 46th Senate District comes down to the wire.
Republican state Assemblyman George Amedore Jr., R-Rotterdam, has raised roughly five times as much as Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, in his bid for the seat, meaning the sudden influx of support couldn’t have come at a better time for her campaign.
“It’s going to help level the playing field,” she said Tuesday.
The 30-second spot sponsored by Friends of Democracy to the tune of roughly $250,000 blasts Amedore as being the candidate representing “more pay-to-play corruption” in the Senate and accuses him of taking tens of thousands of dollars from wealthy donors. Tkaczyk, the vice president of the Duanesburg school board, is described as a candidate who will support “fair elections that put us ahead of the special interests,” according to the ad that is expected to start running around the district today.
Of course, the two organizations coming to support Tkaczyk have little to do with the district she’s running to represent, a patchwork of rural communities extending from Ulster County to Montgomery County. Both super PACs are based in and funded through wealthy individuals from New York City.
Friends of Democracy was co-founded by Jonathan Soros, the son of billionaire George Soros, while Protect Our Democracy was created by investor Sean Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Both are advocating for the state Legislature to adopt a publicly funded campaign finance system much like the one that is now in place in New York City.
Amedore said Tkaczyk is now benefitting from the same downstate money her supporters have blasted him for accepting. He said the super PAC support pouring into the race for Tkaczyk strikes at the heart of the transparency in election financing that she’s made a campaign issue.
“This is hypocrisy at its worst,” he said. “To try and buy this seat for campaign finance reform — that’s the hypocrisy, period.”
Ilyse Hogue, Friends of Democracy’s co-director, disagrees. She said the support Tkaczyk is getting through the two super PACs is focused solely on the issue of bringing in candidates to the Senate who are open to campaign finance reform and to drive up the political consequences for those who don’t support it.
“We’re looking for ways to send a really clear message that there’s political consequence for being on the wrong side of reform,” she said.
Many considered Amedore an overwhelming favorite to win the Senate seat that seemed almost tailored for him through the state’s redistricting. And the home builder quickly jumped far ahead of Tkaczyk in raising money and spending in the campaign.
Though the money from the two super PACs won’t go directly to Tkaczyk’s campaign, it will provide her with a broad array of exposure the candidate simply couldn’t afford before. Hogue believes that exposure could help power her to victory.
“We did internal polling and when voters get to know her … she shoots way up,” she said.
Hogue admitted there’s a degree of irony that her organization and Protect Our Democracy are pouring big money into a cause that is partly aimed at reducing campaign contribution limits. But she said the goal of both organizations is clearly focused on one issue and isn’t political in nature — she even said her group would support Amedore were he to agree to its core principle of reform.
In contrast, she said the funding Amedore has received from wealthy donors and various committees is more open-ended. She said voters have no idea what these donors have been promised by Amedore or the kind of legislation they’re expecting him to support.
Amedore was singled out by the advocacy group Fair Elections for New York last month because his top contributors came from far beyond the district he is running to represent. Among them were seven downstate real estate development companies that gave $10,000 to the candidate.
Amedore’s campaign fired back by highlighting a number of Tkaczyk’s top donors being from downstate. The lion’s share of her campaign funding has come from outside the district, an Amedore campaign spokesman said.
Amedore reiterated this notion Tuesday by pointing out several large donations Tkaczyk has received from No Bad Apples — a super PAC founded by state Sen. Liz Krueger — and from the Manhattan Democrat herself. In contrast, he said more than half of his campaign war chest has come from within the boundaries of the 46th Senate District.
“If you look at my campaign fillings, I have had hundreds and hundreds of individual donors,” he said. “I’ve been very transparent, very clear.”
Amedore said he favors campaign finance reform, but refuses to support a system that would spend taxpayer dollars. Tkaczyk said she supports publicly financed campaigns specifically because it takes campaigns out of the hands of special interests.
“It’s going to help the government work more for the people instead of special interest and the large donors,” she said.