Organizers of Protect Our Democracy raised more than $350,000 from just five people over less than a month this summer — or roughly 91 percent of what the political action committee has raised since its creation in late June.
On Sunday, the super committee created by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and husband Sean Eldridge pledged to spend at least $250,000 to fund ads supporting the campaign of Cecilia Tkaczyk, a lesser-known Democrat running for the state Senate’s newly redrawn 46th District.
But by announcing this intent, the committee placed its five largest donors in violation of state Election Law, according to a complaint filed this week by a supporter of Tkaczyk’s Republican opponent, George Amedore Jr.
Michael Rest, a member of the Guilderland Republican Committee and supporter of Amedore, filed a four-page complaint Wednesday that claims the downstate super PAC is in violation of an election law prohibiting individuals from giving more than $10,300 to a so-called independent expenditure committee supporting a candidate for the senate. The complaint names Protect Our Democracy’s five largest contributors: Eldridge, Hughes, media mogul Barry Diller, billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker and Adam Glass, a Los Angeles entrepreneur.
Eldridge and Hughes donated $125,000 apiece, Glass gave $50,000, and Diller and Stryker each gave $25,000.
The contributions were permissible until the super PAC began publicly urging voters to support Tkaczyk, according to the complaint.
By announcing its support for Tkaczyk, the committee may have ran afoul of a 1994 opinion issued by the Board of Elections — that individual contributions are capped at $150,000 annually for New York candidates.
Willful violation of the campaign finance law is a felony, according to the complaint.
Failing to identify the campaign the committee is supporting can be either a civil violation or a misdemeanor charge, the complaint states.
“With the affected election a mere two weeks away, I request that the board conduct an immediate investigation into this illegal effort to evade the election law contribution limits and refer the matter to the appropriate district attorney for indictment and criminal prosecution,” Rest stated in the complaint.
Rest, who lives in a house built by Amedore’s father, home builder George Amedore Sr., was among several dozen supporters to attend Amedore’s campaign announcement at his company’s office in Guilderland in April. He declined comment Friday.
Representatives for the political action committee — actually a “super PAC,” which has fewer spending limits and disclosure requirements than a regular PAC — insist they did everything in accordance with state law and blasted the complaint as politically motivated. Joe Birkenstock, an attorney for Protect Our Democracy, called the complaint “meritless” and doubted it would go very far.
“Just like PACs, which do no more than write checks to candidates, Protect Our Democracy PAC in fact is not ‘working with’ any candidates at all, either directly or indirectly, through intermediaries or otherwise. As a result, by the plain text of the controlling statute, these limits do not apply,” he said in a statement.
John Conklin, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said his agency doesn’t discuss complaints or their review until a determination is made.
He said the board isn’t due to meet until December — nearly a month after the election — and would likely make determinations at that time.
Protect Our Democracy and another super PAC — Friends of Democracy — pledged to spend roughly $500,000 to support Tkaczyk as the race for the 46th Senate District comes down to the wire. Both indicated the support for Tkaczyk was based on her advocating for the state Legislature to adopt a publicly funded campaign finance system much like the one now in place in New York City.
Protect Our Democracy pledged $250,000 to support Tkaczyk through a direct mailing. Friends of Democracy — an organization co-founded by billionaire George Soros’ son Jon and not named in the complaint — promised to match this amount in television ads slated to run throughout the five-county district until the election.
Neither super PAC is directly contributing or affiliated with Tkaczyk’s campaign, but the funding they are putting into advocating for the candidate is bringing her to an equal financial footing with Amedore, who had amassed a war chest more than five times that of Tkaczyk.
The announcement made by the committees this week triggered Amedore’s campaign to release a new radio ad attacking Tkaczyk’s campaign finance reform plan and the large infusion of spending on her behalf from outside of the district.
The ad spurred a quick rebuke from both Tkaczyk’s campaign and a spokeswoman for Friends of Democracy.