Filings with the Federal Elections Commission show that Democrat Zephyr Teachout has outraised Republican John Faso in the race for the 19th Congressional District by relying largely on small donations from her activist base. Faso, meanwhile, holds an edge in outside spending by political action committees supporting his candidacy.
The filings, submitted last week, show that Teachout, a law-school professor and author who has campaigned against the influence of corporate money in politics, took in $1,606,388 between July and mid-October this year. Overall, her campaign has raised $3,237,510. Going into the critical final weeks of the election, Teachout’s campaign committee reported $1,469,383 cash on hand.
Faso, a veteran politician who once served as New York State Assembly minority leader raised $908,176 during the same reporting period, bringing the total amount of contributions to his campaign to $2,285,383. Faso’s war-chest stood at $355,928 as of October 15.
Teachout, who has made limiting the influence of money on politics a core campaign issue, has said that she was focused on grassroots fundraising efforts, with contributions averaging just $19. The campaign filings appear to back that claim. “Unitemized” contributions under $100 made up a little more than half of Teachout’s fundraising total. By contrast, unitemized contributions account for just 4.9 percent of Faso’s total.
Both candidates also benefited from contributions from political action committees. Teachout raised a total of $242,100, 7.4 percent of her total, from PACs, including mainstay Democratic fundraisers like Moveon.org, the Sierra Club and PACs affiliated with organized labor. Faso’s campaign took in $328,406 in committee contributions. Faso’s committee contributors include PACs affiliated with trade organizations, insurance companies, car dealers and energy firms. Altogether, PAC contributions made up 14.1 percent of Faso’s fundraising total.
Flood of PAC money
But Teachout’s lead in the money race evaporates when outside money from political action committees is factored in. The race for the 19th Congressional District is one of the most hotly contested in the country. PACs aligned with both parties have spent millions to influence it. The outside groups are barred by law from coordinating with campaigns. Instead, they typically support their candidate by flooding airwaves, Facebook feeds and mailboxes with attack ads blasting their opponent.
FEC records show that three PACs supporting Faso spent a total of $3,473,969 while three Teachout-backing PACs spent $1,128,300. The biggest Republican PAC in the race was the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has spent $2,746,894 on media placement and direct mail in the race. Another $952,571 in anti-Teachout media was paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. A third PAC, Defending Main Street, has spent $44,500 in the race. Faso also benefited from PAC support during his race for the Republican nomination.
On the other side, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee led the way on outside spending, targeting Faso with $613,234 in media production and placement. End Citizens United, a fundraising PAC that supports Democratic candidates, has spent $421,852 in the race. The New York Jobs Council has spent $93,214 for direct mail, TV ads and phone banking aimed against Faso.
Teachout once headed an open-government advocacy group and has written extensively on the pernicious influence of money in politics. “Our campaign is already changing money in politics in the 19th District,” said Teachout. “We’re running a grassroots campaign, and I can’t be bought.”
Teachout blamed Faso for the flood of PAC money into the congressional race. Teachout said that she had challenged the former assemblyman to take “The People’s Pledge.” Modeled on an arrangement between then Massachusetts U.S. senator Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren in 2012, the pledge commits candidates to make charitable contributions equal to half of outside money spent in the race. The penalty, supporters say, discourages PACs from running negative ads in an effort to sway elections on behalf of anonymous backers.
Faso dismissed the pledge as “a ruse to try to give her a political advantage.” Many of Teachout’s donations came from outside of the district and outside New York based on her high profile among the progressive left, Faso said, rather than any real connection with Hudson Valley residents. Faso also criticized Teachout’s preferred alternative to the current system, public funding of political campaigns. Faso said New York City’s public campaign finance system had failed to produce better or more honest politicians. He also charged the policy would rig the system in favor of incumbents and force taxpayers to foot the bill for negative ads.
“Does the system need changing, could it use some fixes? Yes,” said Faso. “But the approach she takes frankly would make it worse.”