Fake New York Democrats using shady cash to attack progressive challengers


New York 'Democrats' who enabled Republicans are refusing to return money the state says was raised illegally.

Former members of the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference in New York are using funds from special interests acquired in an illegal scheme as they fend off challenges from progressive primary opponents.

Led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, the IDC was a band of eight New York state senators who betrayed their own party by refusing to caucus as Democrats, allowing Republicans to maintain control of the Senate even when voters elected a majority of Democrats to the upper house of the state legislature.

In return, IDC members were rewarded by Republicans with committee posts and bigger paychecks.

They also raked in cash from special interest groups. These included the pro-charter schools organization New Yorkers for Putting Students First, the anti-universal health care Greater New York Hospital Association, and the Real Estate Board of New York.

"The core of the IDC from the beginning was collecting campaign donations from special interests and lobbyists and working with Republicans to do their bidding," said Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, at an anti-IDC event this summer.

Funds from these organizations and other donors were initially funneled to IDC members and their campaigns using a political action committee called the IDC Initiative. That PAC was also used to recruit new Democratic defectors like Brooklyn Sen. Jesse Hamilton. Hamilton joined the IDC in November 2016 following contributions to his campaign from the IDC Initiative.

The same year, the IDC set up a new fundraising machine in which the state Independence Party turned over control of its Senate Independence Campaign Committee to the breakaway Democrats. This allowed the IDC to circumvent traditional limits on campaign contributions.

The arrangement was declared illegal earlier this year by state Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor. Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel for the Board of Elections, instructed the former IDC members to return money raised using the accounts.

But the IDC "Democrats" have thus far refused. A lawyer representing them and the Independence Party says Sugarman overstepped the court ruling by demanding the funds be returned.

In fact, those Democrats are still receiving campaign funds from the committee to help them stave off their progressive challengers.

That means Klein could be holding on to as much as $200,000, and other IDC members — Hamilton and Sens. Marisol Alcantara, and Jose Peralta — could also be on the hook for more than $100,000 each, according to The New York Times.

With the Democratic primary on Sept. 13, it's too late for the state to do anything to enforce its ruling against the embattled incumbents. But their challengers are making sure voters know, so at least they can hold these so-called Democrats accountable.