Democrat Josh Lafazan, left, and Republican Michelle Bond both lost...

Democrat Josh Lafazan, left, and Republican Michelle Bond both lost their congressional primary races. Credit: James Escher, AP/ Randy Monceaux

New York’s primary elections got swamped by big money.

The culprit: super PACs, organizations built to spend money on politics far exceeding the limits placed on individual donors.

Sometimes those expenditures from super PACs and similar state-level groups came from real estate or law enforcement or ideological interests. Sometimes they boosted Democrats, sometimes Republicans.

A lot of the money in the races for Congress came from people in the cryptocurrency field. On Long Island alone, a super PAC largely funded by Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of crypto exchange FTX, put close to $1 million behind Democratic contenders in the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts: Josh Lafazan and Laura Gillen. 

Bankman-Fried’s associate Ryan Salame, who is a leader of FTX Digital Markets, jumped into a different Long Island congressional race on the opposite side. He dropped $1.5 million into a group that put hundreds of thousands into yet another group called Crypto Innovation PAC, which spent big to boost Suffolk hopeful Michelle Bond – who just happens to be Salame’s significant other.

Two other PACs also poured cash into that race. 

There are rules against coordination between campaigns and these kinds of outside groups. But candidates and PACs in this election cycle dived for loopholes. Consider the careful wording or knowing signals placed on the websites for candidates including Lafazan, Gillen, Bond, 3rd CD Democratic winner Robert Zimmerman and his GOP opponent, George Santos. Marked by red or blue boxes, or tucked in the “Media” tab, there is language like “WHAT VOTERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT,” or a cache of unexplained, often-silent video. Those are not so subtle alerts for super PACs to click and peruse. There, outside advertisement makers and attack artists will find notes for mailers or long minutes of b-roll for TV commercials.

No overt coordination necessary. Rules obeyed!

The super PACs took the hint in multiple LI races. Protect Our Future, which bills itself as a pandemic prevention outfit, used footage identical to that on Lafazan and Gillen’s websites. Lafazan’s video reel was unabashedly labeled “Josh Red Box.mp4.” The Gillen website also used the “Redbox” label.

Bond, who heads a crypto trade association, linked to a long video of her out and about, and Crypto Innovation ads use identical shots of her walking in slow motion. A commenter on the Bond b-roll appeared confused, perhaps expecting to see an actual political ad. “Cannot understand what this video is trying to say,” the commenter wrote.

This is farce. Money does not always provide wins: Lafazan and Bond lost big. And sometimes the sums come from candidates themselves, such as Dan Goldman, who put millions of his own money into his campaign for an open NYC congressional seat.

But money at this level will always stuff our mailboxes, clutter our airwaves, and threaten to sully our democracy – until we get serious about closing loopholes and regulating money’s impact.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.