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Progressives warn of wealthy conservatives’ political agenda

ALBANY — A “cabal” of wealthy conservatives has begun using New York State’s campaign finance laws to sway local elections, including one on Long Island, to create a “billionaire’s agenda” in Albany, according to advocates for union-backed liberal policies.

“There are regular people on one side and there are billionaires on another side, and billionaires want lawmakers who will stand with them instead of the regular people,” said Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All said Tuesday.

He said a “rabidly conservative” billionaire party differs from billionaire liberals such as the Soros family, which supports progressive candidates and policies, because the conservatives are “intertwined” to maximize their impact on local races. The political action committees can legally spend millions on campaigns for mailers and ads for or against candidates as long as they don’t coordinate with a candidate.

The conservative PAC is called New Yorkers for Independent Action and includes Walmart heir Alice Walton, who contributed $450,000 to the $3 million PAC, according to state records.

The labor-backed groups Citizens Action, Alliance for Quality Education and Strong Economy for All said that among the targeted races in the state Legislature and for Congress that the conservative PAC is trying to influence is the Democratic primary in the 6th Assembly District, supporting Giovanni Mata, a medical industry salesman, against Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) .

The groups claim the wealthy conservatives will try to elect candidates to push an agenda that includes fighting the already approved $15 minimum wage and to enact a much more lucrative tax break for charitable contributions to parochial and other nonpublic schools as well as traditional public schools. That education tax credit has been blocked by the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

But Mata said Tuesday he supports the $15 minimum wage. He wouldn’t, however, take a position on the education tax credit. He said he hasn’t seen the whole bill.

The main issue at play, however, appears to be charter schools.

Charter schools are supported by many wealthy business operators, who say they want to improve instruction, as well as by many families and advocates in inner-city neighborhoods, who see charter schools as an alternative to failing traditional public schools.

AQE and the state’s influential teachers unions have long sought to slow the growth of the public schools operated by private companies.

“These folks are paid to deny poor black and brown kids real educational options,” said Robert Bellafiore of the New Yorkers for Independent Action, which includes charter school advocates. “They’re telling low-income black and brown families who want school choices to suck it up and live with what the system gives them. That’s not justice, it’s feudalism.”

Mata refused to say in an interview if he supports or opposes charter schools: “It’s not part of the debate now — there is no charter school in my district, so why should I give an opinion on charter schools?”

“I have nothing do with the group,” Mata said of New Yorkers for Independent Action. “There are a lot of groups and community organizations that are supporting my campaign and I appreciate that.”

Ramos didn’t respond to a request for comment.


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