Campaigns & Elections

The super PACs spending in this year’s legislative Democratic primaries

Charter school and real estate interests are spending big to influence key races involving the DSA and WFP

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $2 million to super PACs spending in state legislative races.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $2 million to super PACs spending in state legislative races. Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Record amounts of money may be getting spent in congressional races (one in particular) in New York, but that doesn’t mean that the money game is any less competitive in state legislative races. Not only are candidates benefiting from public campaign finance for the first time ever, but outside spending has heated up in contentious primaries as well. Deep-pocketed interests are attempting to make their voices heard through independent expenditures as incumbents try to fend off challenges from both the left and the right and candidates compete for open (or nearly open) seats.

Top spenders this year include the usual suspects: the charter school industry, real estate and Wall Street. Those interests are using super PACs in an attempt to keep progressive candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists and America and the Working Families Party out of office – both by supporting incumbents facing insurgent challengers and backing moderate candidates running in open races or against progressive incumbents. 

Independent expenditure committees, better known as super PACs at the federal level, are allowed to receive unlimited contributions and spend as much as they want on races, so long as they don’t coordinate with any candidate or campaign. That means that while the committees can’t directly donate to its preferred candidate, they can flood the airways and mailboxes of voters in a district with literature propping up their candidate or tearing down an opponent. Here are some of the committees spending during an uber-competitive primary cycle as both moderates and progressives duke it out for influence in the state Legislature.

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany

Easily the most active and well-funded of the super PACs in New York this year, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany is backed by pro-charter school interests. The committee, which in the past has supported Republican candidates, dates back to 2014, when the pro-charter group StudentsFirst registered the committee. 

This year, Michael Bloomberg – the former New York City mayor and billionaire who is a staunch supporter of charter schools – gave the committee $1.5 million. Walmart billionaire Jim Walton, another major charter school supporter, gave the committee $750,000. 

The super PAC is spending in support of of five Democrats in competitive primaries: Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman, who is facing a challenge from the DSA-backed Eon Huntley; Assembly Member Taylor Darling, who is running against Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe in an open state Senate primary; Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs, who is fending off Xavier Santiago, an insurgent candidate backed by Rep. Adriano Espaillat; Jordan Wright, the son of Manhattan Democratic boss Keith Wright who is running in an open Assembly primary in Manhattan; and Assembly Member Landon Dais. 

With early voting concluded and Election Day tomorrow, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has spent over $1.2 million on various ads, mail and other campaign things in order to support the candidates. It spent most heavily for Darling, though it had plenty of money to divvy up among its favored candidates.

Moving New York Families Forward

This is another pro-charter school committee. In fact, it has the same major contributors as New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, though it’s received smaller donations. Bloomberg gave this super PAC $500,000, while Walton gave it $100,000. 

Moving New York Families Forward is backing four candidates: Zinerman, who is also being supported by the other pro-charter committee; Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, who faces a challenge from the DSA-backed Jonathan Soto; Anathea Simpkins, who is challenging Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, one of a handful of socialists in office; and Gabbi Madden, who is taking on Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha, another socialist in office. The committee has spent almost $322,000 so far this cycle.

The committee got its start in 2016, when it was formed by the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform ostensibly to help flip the state Senate from Republican to Democratic control. At the time, it was opposed to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which was supporting Republicans, but the two committees seem to be on the same page now.

New York Women Lead

Not to be outshined, real estate interests are also trying to make their voices heard in the Democratic primary after a tough year in Albany that saw the passage of a version of “good cause” eviction protections. 

The New York Women Lead super PAC has received its funding almost exclusively from real estate groups and developers, including Lighthouse Real Estate, Two Trees, the Brodsky Organization, Tishman Speyer and various members of the Durst family. Its donors this year represent a marked shift from the committee’s past donors, which included the likes of pro-women group Eleanor’s Legacy and congressional candidate Nancy Goroff.

Although the group continues to ostensibly spend to support pro-choice women, it is now exclusively spending in favor of candidates running against DSA or Working Families Party candidates, who are hostile to the real estate industry. The super PAC has spent about $275,000 to support Zinerman, Madden and Assembly Member Didi Barrett, who faces a challenge from WFP-backed tenant organizer Claire Cousin.

Hudson Valley Voters

The race between Shrestha and Madden has garnered plenty of attention as more moderate Democrats attempt to win back seats from former progressive insurgents, and the emergence of Hudson Valley Voters is one example of that attention. The independent expenditure committee has spent over $100,000 in support of Madden in the form of consultants and campaign materials. A chunk of the money funding the committee, formed for this election cycle specifically, came from the Rent Stabilization Association, with other donations coming from Hudson Valley landlords like Mark Epstein, Richard Lanzarone and Corlies Manor Realty. 

Laborers Building a Better New York

This committee – the super PAC arm of the Mason Tenders District Council and laborers unions in the building trades – has spent in support of a variety of candidates. Those include Benedetto, Gibbs, Wright and Dais. It’s also backing Johanna Carmona, who is running against DSA-backed Claire Valdez and scandal-plagued Assembly Member Juan Ardila in the Assembly District 37 primary, and Larinda Hooks, who is running in an open primary against former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate in Queens. 

Laborers Building a Better New York has spent about $442,000 on campaign materials either supporting or opposing its chosen candidates. Notably, Mets owner Steve Cohen – who is also trying to build a casino in Queens – recently provided the committee an influx of $250,000. Hooks supports the planned casino, which would be located in the district she is running to represent, while Monserrate opposes it. 

Committee for Sensible Government

While some groups may obfuscate the purpose of their committees or their goals, Committee for Sensible Government is crystal clear about its mission: defeat the Democratic Socialists of America and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City and oppose the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The committee has raised money largely from real estate interests –  including the Rent Stabilization Association, Extell Development and developer Daniel Tishman – and Wall Street investors like Daniel Loeb and Gregg Hymowitz. The committee has spent about $272,000 so far, but based on its filings, it is not clear who specifically the group is supporting or opposing.

Abundant New York

The pro-housing development group Open New York announced earlier this year that it had created a new independent expenditure committee to support candidates that back building more housing. Abundant New York has since come out with several candidate endorsements, though it has only spent in support of a few of those candidates. It has paid for campaign material promoting Shrestha in the Hudson Valley, as well as fellow incumbent Assembly Member Demond Meeks in Rochester and candidate Gabriella Romero, a progressive candidate in a crowded open Assembly race in Albany. Abundant New York has spent about $70,000 to support its chosen candidates this primary season.

Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation

This committee is the super PAC arm of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and has been active in past elections, supporting Republicans and opposing Democrats on Long Island. The foundation has not been terribly active during this year’s primary, but it did notably spend $30,000 on digital ads to support Yi Andy Chen, who is seeking to unseat progressive Assembly Member Ron Kim in Queens. The committee didn’t report any new fundraising this year, and the digital ad buy for Chen is the only new candidate that the group has so far backed.