Demos' House bid boosted by wife's family fortune
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WASHINGTON -- Two years ago, Ronkonkoma lawyer George Demos surprised party officials when he abruptly quit the Republican congressional primary race on Long Island's East End for a novel reason: He was getting married.
But now he's back, making a third bid for Congress, and the importance of his marriage into a family worth half a billion dollars is clear: He's been able to loan his campaign $2 million and might be able to loan it $3 million more.
Since marrying Chrysa Tsakopoulos, daughter of California developer and major Democratic funder Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, Demos has reported that his personal assets jumped from less than $365,000 to as much as $5 million.
That infusion of cash gives Demos a decided financial edge over both state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the man they want to beat, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). Zeldin has $307,315 in cash and Bishop has $565,456 in the bank.
Yet Demos' new fortune has strings attached by campaign finance law. And it's a target for Zeldin, who criticizes Demos for taking money from a major fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Demos declined to be interviewed for this article.
"George Demos is running for Congress, not his family," said his campaign spokesman, Kevin Tschirhart.
Demos, 37, is a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who gained notice as an advocate for the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan, which was destroyed by the 9/11 terror attacks.
In 2010, he finished second out of three candidates in an open GOP primary. But now, as in 2012, he's running against the preferred candidates of the New York State and Suffolk County GOP.
For financial support, Demos has turned to Greek-Americans, mainly in California and New York, records show.
Funders in his first two races included billionaire supermarket and oil magnate John Catsimatidis, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos -- and Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, whose business controls 47,000 acres around Sacramento.
Tsakopoulos and relatives gave Demos $9,600 in 2010 -- before he had met his future wife -- and $28,500 in 2012. For this election, as of Jan. 1, the Tsakopoulos family and employees have given $45,500 of his $201,000 in contributions.
"George's family knows him and believes in him and how he'll stand for what's right," Tschirhart said.
Tsakopoulos, 78, who declined an interview, hasn't said why he, a friend and supporter of Democrats, started funding Demos, a GOP conservative.
Tsakopoulos backs President Barack Obama, who named his daughter Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis ambassador to Hungary, and was a business partner with Pelosi's husband.
In contrast, Demos has attacked Zeldin and Bishop for helping implement Obamacare in most of the four television ads he's run since December.
What Tsakopoulos is doing isn't unusual in the Greek-American community, where ethnicity often trumps ideology and foreign policy on Greece often trumps domestic issues, said Nick Larigakis of the American Hellenic Institute, a public policy group.
"It's no secret he's a major Democratic supporter. But he has certainly supported Greek-American candidates on both sides of the aisle," he said.
Since their marriage, which has produced a baby boy named Angelo, Chrysa, 28, has undergone a transformation from a California funder of Democrats -- donating $260,000 over a decade -- to a Republican registered to vote in Ronkonkoma.
Demos is now a largely self-funded candidate with what an aide said is his own money. Yet in his personal financial disclosure filings, Demos said he has no salary and investments of less than $65,000.
The filings also show that his wife works for her father's firm, has her own bank account worth $100,000 to $250,000, and investments valued between $5 million and $25 million.
Demos can't touch his wife's investments for his race, election lawyer Jan Baran said.
But he can use half of the money they share: two bank accounts that after the wedding grew from less than $300,000 to $2 million to $10 million.
That indicates he can use up to $5 million for his campaign. So far he's loaned it $2 million.
If Demos doesn't pay himself back most of the loans by the election, Baran said, "he'll just have to eat the money."
Tschirhart said he doesn't know how much money is in the joint accounts and hinted Demos is not concerned about repaying himself his loans.
"George and his wife," he said, "have committed the resources necessary to win this election."