On Oct. 18, the first day super PAC donors could contribute money without having their identities revealed until after the elections, Estée Lauder heir Robert Lauder donated $100,000 to a conservative super PAC that promoted a Green Party candidate in a tight upstate New York House race.
The super PAC, Fight for Tomorrow, spent nearly all of that money on last-minute digital ads, mailers and phone calls supporting Steve Greenfield, a Green Party candidate to represent New York’s 19th Congressional District. The NY-19 race was a nailbiter, with incumbent Republican John Faso facing a strong challenge from Democrat Antonio Delgado, who ended up winning by less than three percentage points.
So why would a New York City multi-billionaire Republican throw big bucks at a leftist Green Party candidate? The only explanation is that the last-minute ads were an unsuccessful attempt to peel away enough Democratic voters from Delgado in order put Faso in the win column once again.
Greenfield, who previously called the Fight for Tomorrow spending “a dirty trick,” told Sludge that all PACs “must be legislated out of existence immediately.”
“All over the country,” said Greenfield, “a handful of billionaires donate by the tens of millions every year not merely to support the candidates of their own preference, but to distort the campaigns of others, who are powerless to compete with the reach their money can buy. I spent $3,000 on my campaign. It took me six months to raise and spend that money, and it was only 1/33rd of what Lauder spent in a single day to completely misrepresent me to a much wider audience—and one I had no interest in targeting.”
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Greenfield also noted that Fight for Tomorrow “utterly failed to peel any votes from Delgado, as any fool would have known, one day before the election, targeting the most committed Democratic Party voters.”
Lauder was the primary funder of another super PAC, National Horizon, to which he donated $1.65 million in the 2018 election cycle. The PAC spent just over $1.5 million on independent expenditures benefiting Republican House and Senate candidates, including $62,800 in support of Faso and $152,000 opposing Delgado, according to data catalogued by the Center for Responsive Politics. One Facebook ad alleged, without evidence, that Delgado would help House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pass more sanctuary laws, giving safehaven to criminal gangs.
The New York beauty products heir is a long-time GOP megadonor and contributed the maximum amount of $2,700 to Faso during the general election, after giving the Faso campaign $5,400 during the 2016 primary and general. Lauder, who is the president of the World Jewish Congress, previously committed $1.1 million to a nonprofit, Secure America Now, which ran Islamophobic ads to intensify anti-Muslim bias and fear among 2016 voters.
Fight for Tomorrow’s 2018 primary spending boosted Texas Republican House candidate Bunni Pounds, who lost his primary. As Sludge reported on Election Day, that spending was partially financed with $50,000 from Howard Cox, the brother of New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox. Lauder has in the past been active in the state GOP, having once served as the state party’s finance chairman.
Fight for Tomorrow’s treasurer Matt Mackowiak and Estée Lauder did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported shortly after the November election that Democratic and Republican groups “deceptively propped up third-party candidates” to help their own party’s nominees, with Democrats backing Libertarian candidates and Republicans boosting Green Party candidates.