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Spending in East End House race breaks records

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), left, and his 2014

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), left, and his 2014 challenger State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Photo Credit: James Escher

WASHINGTON -- With nearly $15 million spent so far, the congressional race on Long Island's East End is the most expensive House contest in New York and the eighth costliest in the country, records show.

The unprecedented spending for New York's 1st Congressional District included a record $5.2 million in the June GOP primary and $9.7 million in the general election race between Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Outside groups provided about $9 million of the $14.9 million spent in the district to pay for television ads, letters, phone calls and digital ads.

"It's a massive amount of money to spend on a congressional race," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant, often for Republicans.

Only seven other House races nationally are more expensive, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.

The outside spending is almost even: $3.49 million to help Bishop, $3.55 million to aid Zeldin. But Bishop's campaign has spent more than twice as much as Zeldin's, $2 million to $627,369, records show.

Their race is a big draw for outside money because it is one of about a dozen seats that could flip from Democrats to Republicans, Dawidziak said.

Republicans have targeted Bishop as vulnerable since 2010 and outside spending has risen with each election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee initially reserved $1.1 million in airtime, but has spent $2.1 million, mostly on television ads.

"This is a swing district, and it is occupied by Tim Bishop, a congressman with a very liberal voting record, who is also under a federal ethics investigation," NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said.

Similarly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $1.4 million, but has spent $1.7 million.

"Republicans have tried to buy this seat every election since Rep. Bishop took office," said DCCC spokesman Marc Brumer, "but no amount of money from his far-right-wing allies can help Lee Zeldin run from his record."

The surge in money also follows the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which allows corporations and unions to pay for political messages.

The American Action Network, a nonprofit group that does not disclose its donors, has spent $1.4 million for digital and TV ads attacking Bishop.

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