The August 23 primary is the last chance for Democratic Party voters to weigh in on who they want to represent the newly formed 18th Congressional District in the United States Congress in January. Ulster County executive Pat Ryan will be facing nationally prominent cable-news pundit Aisha Mills and ex-financial regulator Moses Mugulusi. The district consists of Orange County, southern Ulster County and northern and central Dutchess County.
But there’s an unprecedented complexity to this primary, Ryan is also on the August 23 ballot to fill the portion of the term of former congressman and now lieutenant governor Antonio Delgado expiring on January 6 of next year. He’s facing Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro in that one.
If the amount of money raised by the candidates is a reliable metric to predict success, then Ryan is currently so far ahead of his challengers in the new 18th C.D. that he might as well have crossed the finish line.
From April 1 to August 3, Ryan had amassed just under $1.6 million in campaign contributions. Aisha Mills, who declared her candidacy in late May, has picked up $33,060 and loaned herself an additional $7000. At the time of this article, there were no filings from Mugulusi.
The candidate chosen to emerge from the primary contest will face off against Republican assemblyman Colin J. Schmidt on November 8.
In the event that any civic-minded, working-class individual may not have made time to settling down to the kitchen table with a cold beer to dissect the murky particulars of campaign contributions among a trio of candidates, here’s the skinny. Starting with some background, it is presented in the interests of transparency to aid the discerning Ulster County voter.
What is a PAC?
Political Action Committees are most commonly used by business interests, labor unions and groups with an ideology to grind. They first came on the scene in 1943.
Anyone can make a PAC, but no PACs may take contributions from corporations or labor unions. They can only receive money from individuals. So the union boss can contribute to any candidate he likes, just not with union funds.
In this primary contest, $5000 is the maximum contribution.
The money PACs are allowed to spend spreading the good word of their candidate or trashing their candidate’s opponent — say through media such as TV, radio, mailers or Internet — is only limited by the treasure on hand.
When the Citizens United ruling came down from the Supreme Court in 2010, for the first time treating corporations as persons, the sluice gates were opened, and Super PACs were born.
Super PACs can take on unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals and turn around and spend that money to support or oppose a candidate. They just can’t contribute directly to the war chests of the candidate or candidate’s party. According to the law of the land, corporations may have attained personhood, but cannot contribute as individuals.
Further regulations include that the money they spend is not supposed to be coordinated with that candidate or candidate’s party. Good luck to anyone who believes that.
There is even a type of PAC known as a Hybrid PAC which, can operate simultaneously as both a traditional PAC and a Super PAC as long as it keeps the two bank accounts separate.
The carousel never stops
Though candidate Mills emphasizes that the overwhelming majority of her contributions come from individuals, and there is so far no PAC contributions in her receipts, her financial summary does show that her third largest donor, contributing the $5000 maximum, is one of these Hybrid Super Pacs.
LPAC, whose “mission is to elect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer women and non-binary people,” is a hybrid super PAC with an address on L Street in Washington, D.C.
While Ryan has no contributions from Super Pacs, crowding out the top spots for his contribution lists are PACs of the conventional labor, political and corporate sort, with each donating the $5000 limit. All but three have D.C. addresses.
Since this is a race that ends on the national stage in Washington, D.C., money carried in online wheelbarrows sent from Pelosi’s PAC to the Future office in D.C. or any other out- of-state origin are only to be expected, and perhaps encouraged.
Both Aisha Mills and Pat Ryan also received donations through Act Blue, that online clearinghouse for political contributions which many an individual utilizes as a service for contributing to left-leaning candidates and causes.
A brief skim shows that Pat Ryan’s individual donors commonly contributed $2900, the maximum for this primary election according to Act Blue’s rules, whereas Mills’ contributions were much more modest.
The campaign contribution carousel will keep spinning after this primary contest and before the general election on November 8, and long after these contests are forgotten. It never stops.
Candidates will continue to be lured by its irresistible calliope music. The songs of wealth, power, fame and destruction never age. Somewhere inside that garish, gaudy, spinning apparatus, near the center, is the opportunity to do the most good for the most people.
It’s a wonder any of them ever find it.