AP News

NY Senate Dems '10 debt looms large this campaign


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A 2010 campaign debt run up by the Democratic conference in a losing effort to hold their brief majority is looming large in this fall's elections.

New York's Senate Democrats, however, say their fiscal discipline has whittled down their more than $3 million debt by about $2 million and they are on a roll in fundraising, with $1 million on hand.

Republicans, who hold a 33-29 majority in the blue state, say it shows Democrats can't manage their own campaign funds, let alone taxpayers' money. The continued $19,000-a-month payment by Democrats on that debt in this fall's heated campaign further hurts their funding disadvantage.

"It shows they still can't be trusted to manage the state's finances or spend only what taxpayers can afford," said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate's Republican majority.

The fight for the critical Senate majority is a faceoff between the Republicans' nearly 5:1 cash advantage, seen as key to bolstering their ranks, against the Democrats' nearly 2:1 voter registration advantage — something they hope will fuel another Democratic surge as President Barack Obama seeks re-election.

"I know I was handed a significant problem as chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee," said Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens. "My focus was on doing what is necessary to get it to a manageable level. We achieved that. Now we are in a position to succeed in November."

About $1.4 million is left to be paid on the debt after successful fundraising and debt payments last year. Gianaris said it shows "a greater amount of discipline into spending decisions." The loan is from the National Bank of New York City, and is backed personally by most Democratic senators.

"But this is incredible inside baseball," Gianaris said. "What the voters are going to take away is that the party that is going to deliver them a minimum wage hike, protect women's reproductive rights, and sensible gun laws is the Democratic Party."

Republicans say voters will know better.

It's "just like when they increased taxes by $14 billion and overspent the budget during their two disastrous and dysfunctional years in the majority," Reif said.

That brief Democratic reign is what Republicans want voters to remember, and the GOP is using the Democrats' debt as a reminder. Democrats controlled the governor's office, the Assembly and Senate in 2008-2010 for the first time in decades, and in the face of a historic recession and deficits ran up spending and tax increases in Albany.

The June public disclosure of campaign finances was grim for Democrats. The Republican majority had $4.5 million on hand to the Democrats' $719,000, about half the size of its debt at the time. On Friday, Republicans reported $4.78 million on hand.

Even in their brief time in the minority, from 2008-2010, Republicans had $3 million going into the campaign.

In Albany, majority parties have greater control over legislation and resources than in most states, and as a consequence it's hard for a minority party to raise campaign funds.

But it may be worse for the Democratic conference. In 2010, four Democrats created the Independent Democratic Conference, which often allies with the Republican majority. The IDC was formed after members said they were outraged the chaos and gridlock of 2008-2010 under the Senate's Democratic control.

As of the June public filings, the IDC had $317,000 in its campaign and is supporting its first challenger against an incumbent Democrat in the party's primaries.

One of the IDC members, Sen. Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx, also has $1 million in his campaign that could be transferred to IDC-backed candidates. That's an especially galling for the traditional Democratic conference. When the 2010 debt was amassed, Klein ran the Democrats' Senate campaign, calling the shots on funding with other conference leaders.


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