Government and Politics
October 18, 2022
New York, NY- Today, the Times Union reported the New York State Democratic Party filed a complaint against Lee Zeldin’s gubernatorial campaign calling for an investigation into possible coordination with far-right outside groups, which is a violation of New York campaign finance laws.
Based on an investigation first reported by the Times Union, the complaint alleges the Zeldin campaign coordinated with one or more independent expenditure committees based on “common leadership with knowing and intentional sharing of strategic consultants and information… leading to candidate Zeldin having personal knowledge of independent expenditure committee activities before they are publicly announced.”
The common consultant includes New York City Councilman and Zeldin campaign Campaign Co-Chair Joe Borelli, who is also the spokesperson for the Save Our State (“SOS-IEC”) political committee. The Save Our State PAC is funded primarily by billionaire conservative Ronald Lauder, who has injected millions of dollars into the committee to defeat Governor Hochul.
“Reports indicate that Lee Zeldin is potentially illegally coordinating with far-right outside groups that are spending millions to swing the race in his favor, and he must be investigated immediately,” said New York State Democratic Chairman Jay S. Jacobs. “On top of committing ballot fraud to get on a third party line, Zeldin is using outside groups to fund his campaign’s messaging, and we must reject this dangerous attempt at disenfranchising our elections.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs filed an election law complaint on Monday targeting the campaign of the Republican candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island.
It was filed a day after the publication of a Times Union article examining overlaps between Zeldin’s official campaign apparatus and two outside groups that are legally allowed to spend unlimited sums promoting Zeldin or targeting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, but can’t "coordinate" activities with Zeldin’s campaign. [...]
The two groups are spending millions to elect Zeldin in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election. The largest donor to both is conservative billionaire Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune, who has given them more than $6 million this year. The outside financial support for Zeldin's candidacy is being expended as some polls indicate the gubernatorial race is tightening.
Zeldin has embraced both groups, referring to his campaign and the independent expenditure committees as "we" and "our side." Zeldin went further on Oct. 7, affirming his belief that his campaign and the outside groups would collectively outspend Hochul in the final month of the campaign. [...]
“Zeldin seemingly has access to information about the super PAC and its activities before they have made any public statements,” Jacobs' complaint states. “At a recent press gaggle, Zeldin speculated that outside groups would continue to outspend the Hochul campaign through the rest of the election. He said this just days before several massive contributions to pro-Zeldin super PACs became public.”
The Times Union also reported that a co-chair of Zeldin’s campaign — New York City Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli — was a spokesman for Save Our State. Borelli said his "co-chair" title with Zeldin's campaign is merely ceremonial — and he never "acted on behalf or at the direction of the campaign," a key legal threshold.
The second group backing Zeldin, Safe Together New York, paid $100,000 in late December to McLaughlin Media, a firm that "places" targeted advertisements on television and radio stations.
McLaughlin Media is owned by prominent Republican consultant John McLaughlin — who is also Zeldin’s longtime campaign pollster, including for his current run for governor. [...]
Sarah K. Steiner, an attorney who focuses her practice on Election Law and politics, told the Times Union that she believes the fact patterns involving Borelli and McLaughlin bear scrutiny because they’d both held formal titles with Zeldin’s campaign, and worked for outside groups backing him.
"If the same person is involved with both sides, that's really pretty clearly coordination," Steiner said. "You can't do a firewall in your own brain."