By Jimmy Vielkind
A cosmetics heir, charter school advocates and law enforcement
unions are spending more money to influence state Senate races in
New York than they did two years ago when Democrats won control of
Independent expenditure committees spent just over $14 million
between July 1 and Wednesday to support and oppose candidates for
the state legislature, more than the nearly $9 million expended
during the same period in 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal
analysis of campaign finance filings. Independent expenditure
committees can raise and spend unlimited funds but cannot
coordinate with candidate or party committees, whose fundraising is
subject to donation limits.
The increase is attributable to Ronald Lauder, an heir to the
Estée Lauder fortune and president of the World Jewish Congress,
which advocates on behalf of Jewish organizations around the world.
Mr. Lauder has directed $4.85 million to Safe Together New York
Inc., a group that has so far expended $4.45 million to help
Republicans in competitive state Senate districts, mostly on Long
Mr. Lauder was prompted to action by several criminal justice
measures passed by Democrats over the past two years over the
objections of prosecutors and police unions, according to Christian
Browne, an attorney working with Safe Together New York.
The new laws prohibit police officers from using chokeholds,
open officers' disciplinary records to public inspection and
eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony
offenses. Proponents say the laws protect against police abuse and
have made the criminal justice system fairer, but advertisements
funded by Mr. Lauder say they have increased crime.
Advocacy groups that favor the laws demonstrated Wednesday
outside Mr. Lauder's apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan,
chanting "Money out of politics, people out of cages." Chenequa
Rogers, a member of Center for Community Alternatives, which
advocates for less reliance on incarceration, accused Mr. Lauder of
"We will not tolerate billionaires and people trying to [hijack]
an election because of all the money they can throw around," she
Police unions have so far spent more than $1 million -- five
times as much as they spent in 2018 -- supporting Republican
candidates who say they will change the new laws. In a statement,
New York City Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J.
Lynch said this year's election is "an existential crisis for the
policing profession" if Democrats remain in power in the state
While the primacy of various issues has shifted which groups are
spending, there also are major differences between who's on the
ballot in this year compared with 2018. Statewide officeholders,
including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, were up for re-election two years ago,
and spending on party primaries for state offices is included for
the 2018 total because those elections were held in September --
not June, as they are now.
And the political landscape in New York is quite different.
Democrats in 2018 won a solid majority, 40 seats, in the 63-seat
state Senate. Progressive-backed challengers also defeated six of
the eight members of the former Independent Democratic Conference,
which had been allied with Republicans.
As such, groups that had traditionally supported Republicans are
now forging alliances with individual Democratic legislators,
particularly those who are running in close elections.
Jobs for New York, a group funded by the Real Estate Board of
New York, a developer group, spent more than $400,000 in 2018
helping a Republican senator who lost her re-election bid. REBNY
hasn't used its independent expenditure committee this year but has
given some direct contributions to legislators in both parties.
REBNY had more at stake at the time: State lawmakers, over
REBNY's objections, strengthened rent control laws affecting more
than 1 million housing units in 2019. The laws, which had
previously been subject to renewal every few years, were made
"Strategically I didn't see the need for huge expenditures at
this time, " REBNY President James Whelan said. "It's a matter of
building relationships and building relationships over the course
Lyft Inc. and other "gig economy" companies have been bracing
for a legislative fight about worker classification. Labor unions
are pushing for a law -- similar to a measure enacted in California
-- that would classify app-based workers including ride-hail
drivers as full-time employees subject to wage and hour laws.
New Yorkers for Independent Work, funded by Lyft, has spent $1
million this year in primary and general elections to support
Democratic candidates it describes as "pro-growth."
Charter school advocates have increased their spending from 2018
to $3.4 million so far, mostly by supporting Democratic candidates
on Long Island. Jenny Sedlis, executive director of
StudentsFirstNY, which lobbies for publicly funded, privately
managed charter schools, said it planned to continue spending in
the coming weeks.
A committee funded by the New York State United Teachers union,
which often duels against largely nonunionized charter schools, is
spending roughly half of what it did in 2018. That year a committee
funded by NYSUT spent $1.4 million as the union advocated for a
bill that would reduce the use of student test scores in teacher
That bill passed in 2019. A union spokesman declined to
Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 22, 2020 18:51 ET (22:51 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.