NY-22 Sees Second Most Independent Spending Of Any House Race

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The race for New York’s 22nd Congressional District has drawn national attention as court determinations of roughly 2,000 ballots keep the race neck-and-neck.

Candidates for New York’s 22nd Congressional District at a debate at WSKG on Oct. 22, 2020. (Rob Lane/WSKG)

According to data from the Campaign Finance Institute, other than a race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, more independent money has been spent for Democrat Anthony Brindisi and Republican Claudia Tenney combined than for any House race in the nation.

Where does the money go?

Independent groups across the political spectrum spent a total of nearly $18,902,985 on NY-22 through Election Day. That’s money from independent expenditures, or spending by outside groups not directly affiliated or coordinating with either of the two campaigns.

Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi. (Rob Lane/WSKG Public Media)

The race also received the second most funding from the “Big Four” sources of independent spending: party campaign committees and their allied super PACs. For Brindisi, that is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC. For Tenney, who held the seat from 2017 to 2019, it is money from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund.

Democratic party leadership spent $5,595,647 for Brindisi, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. Republicans poured nearly double that into efforts in favor of Tenney at $10,578,267. Several million more went into the race from smaller PACs, such as the Center Forward Committee and Upstate Strong.

Robert Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University, said money from the campaigns committees and super PACs tends to go to television ads and promotional material. But funding from big political groups has its downsides.

“A super PAC like Congressional Leadership Fund or House Majority PAC—they’re not necessarily going to take the time to learn about what’s unique about that district,” Boatright explained.

Instead, super PACs spend millions of dollars on generic attack ads. Boatright said that can hurt the candidates’ success in their district.

“What’s a shame about this kind of money is that it really nationalizes these races and drowns out the ability of candidates to really distinguish themselves from their parties,” he said.

Boatright said it can be especially harmful to Democrats trying to hold on to traditionally Republican districts this election cycle. To win re-election, Democrats who unseated Republicans in 2018 now must show voters that they understood which issues the district cares about most.

That’s a more challenging task, however, when party campaign committees and super PACs are spending millions of dollars on “cookie-cutter” advertisements, Boatright said.

“Every Democrat around the country had to defend themselves against wanting to defund the police or wanting to open up the border,” he added.

A razor-thin margin

Tenney and Brindisi are competing for a razor-thin margin of votes. Tenney had a 28,000-vote lead on Election Day, but with the counting of absentee and affidavit ballots, it shrunk to roughly 200 votes. According to David Wasserman, U.S. Editor of the Cook Political Report, Brindisi now leads Tenney by “12 or 13 votes.”

Republican Claudia Tenney. (Rob Lane/WSKG Public Media)

In a statement, Tenney campaign spokesperson Sean Kennedy called updated tallies inaccurate.

“It is far from final. Our team will fight to ensure the rights of every voter who cast a legal and proper ballot are preserved and not diluted,” Kennedy said. “We cannot sacrifice accuracy for speed. When that is done, we feel strongly that Claudia Tenney will be certified the winner of the race for the 22nd District of New York.”

In 2018, Brindisi unseated Tenney by 4,500 votes.

There are a couple of thousand ballots an Oswego County Supreme Court judge will decide.

Brindisi for Congress spokesman Luke Jackson said the campaign is hopeful Brindisi will be sworn into the House again once a winner is certified.

“As we’ve said from the start, once the election process is completed Anthony will be re-elected,” Jackson said in a statement Wednesday. “Democracy might force us to wait sometimes, but voters’ faith in this process and our Republic should remain steadfast.”

Stalled certification

On Tuesday, the judge ordered a pause on certifying election results, which the state requires by Nov. 28. According to Syracuse.com, the injunction will allow attorneys for both campaigns to figure out how, or if, to move forward with the complicated ballot-counting process.

The injunction comes after a review of challenged and rejected ballots in each of the district’s eight counties saw ministerial errors and violations of New York election throughout the process. Misplaced sticky notes and unclear spreadsheets were among the issues debated.

Legal representatives for Brindisi and Tenney will have until Monday, Nov. 30 to file their motions.