Outside Money Floods New York Congressional Races
In a feverish House race across Manhattan, a dark-money super PAC has spent more than $200,000 reminding voters that an incumbent congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney, once indulged doubts about vaccines.
Out east in Suffolk County, cryptocurrency interests have spent more than $1 million on ads disparaging a former Navy officer in a Republican primary for Congress and supporting his opponent, a cryptocurrency booster, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm.
And in the city’s northern suburbs, a police union PAC has spent more than $200,000 on ads calling a Democratic candidate a “radical extremist” who “left her community crime-ridden.” Those grim warnings, delivered over a soundtrack of gunshots, breaking glass and crackling fire, target a state senator, Alessandra Biaggi, and benefit her opponent in the 17th Congressional District, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A rising tide of lightly regulated outside money is pouring into New York State: As of Thursday, with the Aug. 23 primary date looming, outside entities have spent about $9 million in state congressional primaries, according to data maintained by Open Secrets, a government transparency group. In 2018, outside entities spent roughly $2.6 million.
Some of the players are familiar, including real estate and police groups. Others, like the super PAC targeting Ms. Maloney in the 12th District, have yet to identify their donors. The treasurer for that PAC, Brandon Philipczyk, did not respond to requests for comment. Berlin Rosen, a New York consultancy, is also involved.
The thrust of the ad campaign taking aim at Ms. Maloney mirrors the messaging that her chief primary opponent, Representative Jerrold Nadler, has put in his campaign website’s so-called red box. Campaigns use language hidden in such boxes on their websites to communicate indirectly with super PACs that might support them.
A spokesman for the Nadler campaign declined to comment.
“I am disappointed that my colleague and friend, Congressman Nadler, has resorted to using dark-money funded attack ads against me to mislead voters in a desperate attempt to win this election,” Ms. Maloney said in a statement that also apologized for her past remarks on vaccines. “Voters are used to seeing these kinds of dirty campaign tactics from Republicans, but I expected more of Congressman Nadler.”
In New York City’s other marquee House primary contest, for the 10th Congressional District encompassing parts of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, money also looms as a factor, but much of it is coming directly from one of the leading candidates, Daniel Goldman.
Mr. Goldman, the heir to the Levi Strauss fortune who prosecuted the first impeachment case against Donald J. Trump, has put at least $4 million of his own money into the race.
But super PAC money is also playing a role in the race. A new super PAC called New York Progressive, Inc. has begun distributing literature targeting Yuh-Line Niou, a left-leaning state assemblywoman, for opposing an affordable housing development for seniors — part of a $225,000 expenditure. The treasurer of the PAC, Jeffrey Leb, typically raises money for such efforts from real estate interests. He declined to comment.
And on Thursday, a super PAC called Nuestro PAC announced it would spend half a million dollars on behalf of one of Ms. Niou’s rivals, Carlina Rivera.
North of the city, Mr. Maloney is benefiting from expenditures by the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which endorsed Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
In an interview, Mr. Maloney said that he was following the law and had not coordinated or communicated with the police union, which has not endorsed him in the primary. But he said its involvement was no surprise.
“My opponents said cops have no souls, and the cops didn’t like that that much,” he said, referring to a 2020 Twitter post from Ms. Biaggi calling police “soulless,” in response to a story about allegations of police abuse.
“That ad is being funded by the P.B.A., a pro-Trump union,” Ms. Biaggi said in response. “You would expect Democrats to condemn that. But the one I’m running against does not, because he benefits from it.”
This primary season, some of the outside spending in New York State comes from a new player: the cryptocurrency industry, which is spending on behalf of Republicans and Democrats alike.
In Suffolk County’s First Congressional District, where Representative Lee Zeldin’s bid for governor has created an open seat, a cryptocurrency executive, Michelle Bond, is running a far-right campaign for the Republican nomination against Nick LaLota, a Navy veteran who has served in county government for more than seven years.
Ms. Bond is the chief executive of the Association for Digital Asset Markets, a cryptocurrency industry group in Washington, D.C. In the past 18 months, she also reported working as a consultant to FTX Digital Markets, whose co-CEO, Ryan Salame, is her boyfriend.
As The Block, a cryptocurrency trade publication, has reported, Mr. Salame has put $1.5 million into a super PAC called GMI, which, in turn, has put more than $1 million into the Crypto Innovation PAC. The latter has spent more than $1 million running ads supporting Ms. Bond’s candidacy, according to Ad Impact.
“When Ms. Bond began to consider running for congress, Mr. Salame informed his partners in the GMI PAC that he would abstain from any decisions regarding her race,” said a spokesman for Mr. Salame, Patrick B. Jordan. “He has not been a part of any decisions related to funds spent on her campaign with GMI or any other PAC.”
Two other super PACs are also spending in the race, in explicit or tacit support of Ms. Bond. One, the Crypto Freedom PAC, whose treasurer did not respond to requests for comment, receives funding from the conservative Club for Growth Action super PAC. The other, the Texas-based Stand for New York Committee, has yet to report contributions to the Federal Election Commission, but has spent more than $300,000 on TV advertising. The treasurer for that committee, Cabell Hobbs, declined to comment.
“A single Democrat-aligned group spent $410 million boosting Democrats in 2020 — more than the D.N.C.,” said Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Ms. Bond, in an email. “The head of the D.C.C.C. is seeing hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside groups pouring into his race, too. Republicans can either keep up or lose.”
Mr. Salame’s colleague, Sam Bankman-Fried, the billionaire founder of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that owns FTX Digital Markets, is playing in the opposite end of the political field. Via a PAC called Protect Our Future, he is backing Democratic candidates across the state.
In Nassau County’s Third and Fourth Districts, Protect Our Future PAC has spent more than $500,000 on TV and digital ads supporting Joshua Lafazan, a Nassau County Democratic legislator, and more than $250,000 supporting the campaign of Laura Gillen, the Democratic former supervisor of the Town of Hempstead.
In similar statements, Mr. Lafazan and Ms. Gillen suggested that they were honored to receive the group’s financial support.
In New York’s 22nd District, which includes the cities of Syracuse and Utica, the PAC has spent more than $500,000 in support of Francis Conole, a Democratic veteran of Iraq War.
“Protect Our Future supports candidates across the country who we believe will be champions for pandemic prevention in the next Congress,” said Mike Levine, the PAC’s spokesman, who pointed to the three candidates’ promise to push for pandemic preparedness measures once in office.
But watchdog groups wary of big money in politics worry other motives are at play, too.
“This type of spending is usually an attempt to buy access and influence, which this industry would likely want as it’s facing potential regulation in Congress,” said Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for End Citizens United, a group devoted to overturning the Supreme Court decision that allowed unfettered money to flow into political campaigns. “The system is clearly broken.”
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting, and Susan Beachy contributed research.