Outside money pours into 1st House District GOP battle

From left, Congressional candidates Lee Zeldin and George From left, Congressional candidates Lee Zeldin and George Demos begin their first debate on Long Island News Radio Friday evening, May 23, 2014 as Phil Junquera, 21, of Sag Harbor, a Demos supporter, and Cindy Thompson, 54, of Miller Place, a Zeldin supporter, watch nearby in the lobby at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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WASHINGTON -- Two super PACs and a "dark money" nonprofit group are spending an unusually large amount of money on the Republican primary race between State Sen. Lee Zeldin and attorney George Demos to face Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

With three weeks to go to the June 24 primary, the three groups report they've spent a total of $763,760 for cable TV and online ads, mailings and telephone calls -- much more than the $90,000 an outside group spent in the last competitive GOP primary in the East End district in 2010.

So far, the outside spending is tilted $419,000 to $344,760 against Demos, who after he loaned his race $2 million, has a substantial advantage in campaign funds over Zeldin (R-Shirley).

The flow of money into the race is in part a result of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that freed corporations, unions and big donors to give to political action committees and nonprofit groups that independently deliver political messages.

"This is a one-on-one primary. That could be part of the draw," said John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican chairman. "It's America. It's free speech."

But it also points up the intraparty divisions in the battle between Zeldin, backed by the Republican establishment, and Demos, a self-funded candidate supported by former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

David Laska, the New York GOP spokesman, said the party is unified behind Zeldin, and accused Demos of being a spoiler in "the best chance we've had to defeat Tim Bishop."

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With his large campaign chest, Demos has been running ads that seek to paint Zeldin as a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, which Zeldin denies.

The outside groups attack Demos for using money he got by marrying into a wealthy California family who are major Democratic donors with ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Demos says it's his own money.

The American Action Network -- called a "dark money" nonprofit because it declines to identify its donors -- said Monday it's spending $225,000 against Demos to "chip away" at his edge in campaign funds.

The network, chaired by former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, began running cable TV ads Saturday, spokeswoman Emily Davis said.

A super PAC named U.S. Jobs Council, based in Washington, reported in May it is spending $194,000 to oppose Demos.

On the other side, a super PAC called Americans for Common Sense, also based in Washington, is spending almost $345,000 to oppose Zeldin.

That PAC's treasurer is Vincent Balascio, the campaign manager for Republican Joe Lhota's unsuccessful 2013 run for New York City mayor. Demos spokesman Kevin Tschirhart was Lhota's political director.

Both super PACs reported spending money in the Demos-Zeldin race, but have not filed a report with the Federal Election Commission identifying their donors.

Neither super PAC responded to queries.

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