What do Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, and defense contractor Raytheon have in common?
Their political committees all donated thousands to Rep. Lee Zeldin’s campaign in recent months.
That was part of a big draw for the Shirley Republican, who took in the most campaign cash this cycle of all five House members who represent Long Island.
Zeldin’s receipts totaled $662,651.45 between April and July. He also led the way in contributions from committees such as PACs — a whopping $305,000 on that front.
Beyond the businesses and banks, Zeldin also enjoyed the largesse of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, like Zeldin a hardline supporter of Israel. Then there is Kenneth Griffin, the hedge-funder who bought America’s most expensive home — a $238 million penthouse on Central Park South.
Why all the big-dollar love in Suffolk County?
It’s a big prize. New York’s 1st Congressional District has teetered on the border between blue and red recently. President Donald Trump won it by 12 points after President Barack Obama took it narrowly in 2008 and 2012.
Zeldin fended off a challenge from businessman Perry Gershon by 4 percent last year, despite the fact that Gershon was a relative newcomer to full-time life in East Hampton, having registered to vote in Suffolk County in 2017.
We’re still over a year out from the 2020 presidential and congressional elections but the district’s dynamics are already shaping up. Zeldin is a reliable Trump ally and a happy warrior on the Twittersphere, eager to clash (like Trump) with some of the “squad” of newly elected progressive congresswomen and their supporters on issues from Israel to economics. The GOP is looking to boost him: this spring, the National Republican Congressional Committee named Zeldin to the first round of its “Patriot Program” along with other incumbents who might not exactly have a walk in the park fending off challengers.
Democrats were eager to defeat him in 2018 and will be again. Stony Brook professor Nancy Goroff is in and says she raised more than $200,000 within 72 hours of declaring (she hasn’t had to file fundraising records). Gershon, back for a rematch, has raised more than $400,000. As is nearly mandatory on the liberal side of things now, he didn’t rely on PAC donations, unlike Zeldin.
Zeldin’s spokeswoman, Katie Vincentz, called the congressman’s sum “a massive haul” and batted away questions about money coming from large donors and PACs.
She wrote in an email: “The radical socialists will have an unlimited supply of dark money for their lies and nasty attacks targeting Congressman Zeldin next year, but once again that will be money poorly spent by the left on another well deserved loss.”
For followers of this race, get ready for lots more cries of “socialist,” which from Trump on down is getting to be the national epithet of choice.
It hardly applies to Gershon, who put hundreds of thousands of dollars into his last campaign and raised more than $45,000 from family members this cycle. And Democrats are happy to spend money even if they don’t own the means of production — as Zeldin’s spokeswoman notes, union-affiliated super PAC United We Can spent more than $400,000 against Zeldin in 2018. She called it “dark money.”
Socialist dark dollars, apparently, as opposed to bright capitalist cash. In this political atmosphere, more will surely be on the way.
Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.