Heard Around Town

Independent spending dwarfs candidates fundraising for Congress, governor

New campaign fundraising data only offers so much clarity on the state of races that are dominated by millions of dollars of outside spending.

The looks of campaign finance can be deceiving. Check the Federal Election Commission page for the competitive race in Central New York’s 22nd Congressional District between Republican Brandon Williams and Democrat Francis Conole, and you’ll see Conole has far outraised Williams, and outspent him by roughly four to one. But the bulk of spending in the race has flowed from outside groups buying up ads to help one candidate or the other. The parties and their associated PACs alone have spent nearly $9 million on the race, with about $5 million benefitting Williams – dwarfing his $513,000 spent this cycle. Private super PACs have added even more to the independent spending, with the hedge fund-financed American Patriots PAC dropping $700,000 to help Williams, for just one example.

The same goes in the 19th Congressional District race between Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Josh Riley. While Riley’s campaign has twice as much cash on hand as Molinaro’s as of Oct. 19, their campaign fundraising is dwarfed by the $9.6 million the parties have spent on them so far – with Molinaro getting a roughly half million dollar edge in outside spending over Riley.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, making an unexpectedly competitive bid to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul, is benefiting from millions in outside spending too, with the $12 million and counting from super PACs helping to close the gap between him and Hochul, whose $50 million campaign  has outraised his by more than two-to-one. While independent expenditures are meant to be just that – independent from coordination with campaigns – Zeldin recently asked supporters to donate to outside groups who can spend unlimited sums in support of his campaign, the Times Union reported.