Spectrum Accusations In The Race For NY-22

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Candidates are using Spectrum as a talking point in the race for New York’s 22nd Congressional District.

WSKG Public Media

Anthony Brindisi and Claudia Tenney shake hands during their debate at WSKG in 2018. (Phil Westcott/WSKG)

In 2018, Congressman Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat, unseated Claudia Tenney, a Republican.

Now, Tenney’s running to represent the region again. The district covers several counties in the Southern Tier, Central New York, and the Mohawk Valley and the internet and cable company dominates service to the area.

Each of the candidates claims the other did not do enough while in office to advocate for customers, while accepting money from Spectrum—the name customers know for Charter Communications.

“Connecting families across New York is not a political game for us,” a regional spokesperson for the company said in a statement, but Charter Communications has a PAC, or political action committee. It’s separate from the company.

Charter did not agree to an interview for this story.

Corporations and unions may not give money directly. It has to go through a PAC which has a board and a chairman.

“It’s separate from the corporate leadership—although it’s influenced I’m sure informally by it—and it makes a decision about where the money goes,” James Thurber, with American University, explained.

Charter’s PAC has not given money to either campaign this election, but maxed out its contribution to Tenney’s campaign last election at $5,000.

“I have taken money transparently like every other member of Congress. I’m not going to hide it,” Tenney said at a press conference in August. But, she claims Brindisi accepts corporate PAC money indirectly.

Brindisi’s campaign spokesperson said the Congressman does not take corporate PAC money “plain and simple.”

It’s true that he does not accept corporate PAC money. Among the PACs that contribute to his campaign are Leadership PACs, which come from other political candidates, and Ideological PACs, which give to candidates based on issues.

“There’s a lot of other ways for corporate PAC money to indirectly get funneled into the coffers of someone who might be rejecting corporate PAC money,” said Alex Baumgart, a researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). They compile data using the latest information from the Federal Elections Commission.

Only if candidates reject funding from all PACs will CRP say without a doubt that they do not accept corporate PAC money.

According to the data, the Jersey Values PAC has given to Brindisi’s campaign. That’s a Leadership PAC for Josh Gottheimer which counts Goldman Sachs and others among its corporate contributors. Charter’s PAC gave money to an Ideological PAC which gave money to Brindisi’s campaign.

“He’s taking money from other sources that are financed by corporations,” Baumgart concluded.

According to End Citizens United, it’s fair for Brindisi to claim he does not accept corporate PAC money. The organization’s aim is to get corporate money out of politics.

Corporate PACs, and contributions from corporations’ CEOs and other high-paid associates, make up a large portion of the money in politics. End Citizens United’s PAC gave to Brindisi because they believe his pledge to not accept corporate money directly is also saying that he rejects direct corporate influence.

Meaning corporate PACs which give money directly to candidates have direct access to candidates, but, when it goes through another PAC, it dilutes the influence.

Charter’s PAC gives to both Republican and Democratic candidates, and to other PACs. “They’re hedging their bets,” Thurber said.

Both Brindisi and Tenney said they are putting pressure on state and federal agencies to try to curb Spectrum’s control. They have each served a single term in the House and their sway is not as powerful as some who have served for decades. They need leverage.

“It is an issue that is broadly of concern to many members of Congress, so they can talk to people who have jurisdiction over this with their committees, and say, ‘we really need to do something about investment in infrastructure and having more competition’,” Thurber said

Thurber also said if they want to persuade the FCC to get involved, they will need a coalition of lawmakers to coordinate that call to action.

The race for NY-22 has a third candidate, Keith Price, who’s running on the Libertarian Party line.