A Campaign’s Money Does Not Grow On Trees – A Look At Where The Money In NY-24 Comes From

Saturday, Nov 03, 2018 at 4:33 pm by Taylor Lang

By Gilat Melamed – Syracuse, N.Y. (CitrusTV) –  There is more than a 30-fold difference in the number of PAC contributions to Rep. John Katko’s campaign compared to Dana Balter’s campaign for the 24th Congressional District, according to campaign finance records since the primary in late June.

Despite this major difference in PAC contributions, the total amount of money each candidate has raised is very close. FEC filings show the Republican incumbent has raised $2,137,134.30 in total contributions this election cycle, while his Democratic challenger edged him out by just over $100,000, raising a total of $2,265,750.48.

The two are raising money in vastly different ways.

Since primary season ended, Katko received 160 PAC contributions, and Balter has received five (three of them from the same PAC), according to campaign finance data. Money from individuals is where Balter makes up the difference. The political newcomer has received over $2 million from individuals, while Katko clocks in at just over $850,000.

The importance of money to a political campaign is a reality that cannot be understated. Last week, election tracker Cook Political Report changed ten of its house race predictions, citing fundraising advantages as playing a role.

On the left, accepting money from corporate PACs has become increasingly criticized this election cycle. Fresh Democratic blood like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and 2020 contenders like Kamala Harris are saying they won’t take money from the groups.

“Political committees, or PACs, they’re organized campaign finance vehicles that can collect money from individuals, but they collect it subject to a contribution limit,” said Michael Kang, an election law professor at Northwestern.

The Balter campaign has been highlighting the difference in how the two candidates raised money. The Kakto campaign has not responded to a request for a statement at this time.

“Balter’s support came overwhelmingly from individuals (91.8%), in contrast to Katko’s 48.7% – the rest came from PACs and party committees,” said the Balter campaign via a press release.

Corporate PACs, as opposed to political activism or ideological focused PACs, generally do not give money to challengers. Katko receiving significantly more money from PACs than Balter has is not something unique to him. Kang describes why the motives behind PACs fuel their donations.

“One basic distinction between corporate PACs and individual donors, or even really super PACs, are that company PACs they want access, so they’re not ideologically driven,” he said. “So if I’m Delta and I run Delta’s PAC, probably what Delta wants is Delta wants to be heard on all the issues that affect the company, and so what they do is give money with that in mind.”

Campaign donations from corporate PACs have come under the spotlight recently in this race. The most unpredictable moment in the candidate’s first debate was when Balter accused Katko of changing legislation in a TSA Pre-Check bill due to campaign donations he received from the airline industry.

“You, I believe it was the day before the markup, got thousands of dollars in contributions from the airline industry, and the very next day during markup changed one of the major provisions of your own bill in the way the airline industry wanted it to be changed,” Balter said during the debate.

Katko vehemently denied the accusation calling it “outrageous.”

“To think that I would somehow be influenced by something like that is ridiculous,” Katko responded during the debate. “I don’t remember exactly what you’re talking about, but I can tell you one thing I’ve never been influenced by anybody in my life.”

This incident from 2015 that the two debated aside, a broader look at PAC donations to Katko’s 2018 campaign in the general election shows he received money from about a dozen air travel related PACs, totaling to nearly $20,000, according to FEC filings. Among these groups are Delta Air Lines Political Action Committee; United Airlines, Inc. Political Action Committee and Netjets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots PAC.

The relation between airline industry PACs and Katko is not unusual. Katko is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and chairs the Transportation and Protective Security division of the Homeland Security committee. From the PACs’ standpoints it’s in their best interests to put their money where their legislative mouth is.

“It’s definitely the case that the more powerful an incumbent is the more fundraising potential he has from corporate PACs, there’s no question about it,” Kang said. “They give to whoever is going to benefit from them most.”

On Balter’s end, the few PACs she has received money from are partisan, because she does not have a voice on industry legislation. These PACs include Democracy For America, whose founder is former DNC chair Howard Dean, and Off the Sidelines PAC, which is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) PAC for women’s issues. Like Balter, and most candidates, Katko is receiving money from numerous partisan PACs too.

In just four days we’ll see how the money pays off. Until then, Katko and Balter will make a final push with one more debate that will air Sunday on WSYR.

CitrusTV will keep you updated with all election coverage in New York and the country on November 6th from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. live at citrustv.com/live and @CitrusTVNews on Twitter.