Monday, November 15, 2010

Election funds avoided limits

From Jacob Gershman of The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 13:
During the peak of the election season, the state's largest teachers union quietly channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the re-election bids of three Senate Democrats who had been targeted by the charter-school movement.

To counter a surge in independent expenditures and donations from charter advocates, New York State United Teachers created a new committee that was less restricted by campaign-finance limits than the union's political arm.

Spending more than $360,000 to help three incumbent Democrats, including Sen. Bill Perkins, defeat primary opponents, the committee didn't file its first disclosure statement until 10 days after the September primaries.

In September and October, the committee received three lump-sum contributions totaling about $370,000, according to the most recent campaign filings. Nearly all of the money went to Red Horse Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm that works closely with Senate Democrats, and was earmarked for three races. The money paid for phone-banking, mailings, fliers and other services provided by Red Horse leading up to the primary.

No one is accusing the union of violating election law. But NYSUT's maneuver is the latest indication of how independent expenditures are shaping state politics following the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Citizens United ruling, which struck down restrictions on such political spending by corporations and unions.

"NYSUT proceeded very carefully based on the record that was before us from the court, which we are confident allowed us to set up an unauthorized committee to make independent expenditures. And that's exactly what we did," said Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the union.

Still, it isn't clear how the union, which didn't publicize any major fund-raising effort, was able to generate so much money so quickly.


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