Multiple mysterious and likely illegal political groups appear to have spent money to influence last week’s New York primary elections. After reporting that an unregistered “Democratic club” linked to state Sen. Martin Dilan had received tens of thousands of dollars from real estate interests, Sludge has found another operation that appears to have made a political expenditure without reporting it to the state Board of Elections.
A group calling itself the Truth in Democracy Coalition (TDC) distributed flyers attacking Jessica Ramos, the challenger to incumbent state Sen. Jose Peralta, a member of the recently folded, GOP-aligned Independent Democratic Conference. Ramos beat Peralta by 10 percent on Thursday.
The flyer, which states it was “paid for” by the TDC and was included in a report by Daniel Marans of HuffPost, attacked Ramos with claims that “SHE HAS NOTHING OF REAL SUBSTANCE TO OFFER OUR COMMUNITY” and “SHE’S A LOSER.” But TDC, which has almost no online footprint, did not register as a political group with the State Board of Elections despite paying for these flyers, a clear violation of New York campaign finance law.
If the TDC “spent any money producing this communication, which it almost certainly did, it is required to first register as a political committee with the State Board of Elections, identify a treasurer and open a bank account,” Alex Camarda, senior policy director at the good-government nonprofit Reinvent Albany, told Sludge.
“Truth in Democracy appears to have illegally campaigned as an independent expenditure committee while failing to register with the Board of Elections and disclose its contributions and expenditures,” Camarda said. “To ensure fair elections and informed voters, it is essential for any campaign group to disclose who its donors are and how it spends its money.”
Thomas Musich, a spokesperson for Peralta, told Sludge that the senator “ran his campaign on his record of accomplishment in the Senate, not on negative talking points. He has never seen this flyer nor heard of the group associated with it.”
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Ramos did not respond to a request for comment.
Unregistered political spending groups are a problem in New York. In 2013, New York government reform nonprofit Citizens Union published a study, co-authored by Camarda, that identified 224 political party clubs that hadn’t registered with the Board of Elections but appeared to engage in campaign-related activities. When Reinvent Albany checked on the 50 top-spending unregistered clubs this year, 25 that appeared to still be active had not registered with the elections board.
After Sludge’s report on the unregistered club linked to Dilan, who lost his reelection bid on Nov. 13 to democratic socialist Julia Salazar, Reinvent Albany filed a format complaint with the State Board of Elections requesting an investigation into several potential campaign finance violations.