In New York’s Hudson Valley, progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is being attacked in her primary against Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney by a mysterious new super PAC that is sending mailers to voters criticizing her past statements on law enforcement.
In the past week, a group called Our Hudson PAC has reported spending nearly $94,000 on direct mail pieces opposing Biaggi, marking an increase in outside spending targeting the challenger.
One side of an incendiary Our Hudson PAC mailer that Sludge viewed decries what it calls Biaggi’s “divisive politics,” calling her “irresponsible” for tweets she posted in 2020 during the protests against the killing of George Floyd that are critical of police. One tweet screenshotted on the mailer omits where Biaggi said, “#VOTE #VoteBidenHarris2020.” In a February interview with the Washington Post, Biaggi addressed the tweets and said that she supports increasing funding for things like mental health services and social welfare programs, and that police should be focused on solving violent crimes, not responding to mental health crises.
Our Hudson PAC, incorporated on July 6, does not offer any information on its website about its founders. In an FEC report released on Aug. 11, the PAC disclosed that it received a contribution of $300,000 from the National Association of Realtors on July 25 and $50,000 from Sucro Sourcing, a sugar refiner and distributor headquartered in Florida, on Aug 1. The group’s cash on hand stands at nearly $297,000.
Our Hudson PAC did not respond to a request for comment on the people behind the pop-up group or its plans to disclose its funders. The mailing address of Our Hudson PAC is a UPS store in Midtown Manhattan, outside of the district.
Maloney recently declined calls by members of his own party to condemn super PAC spending like that from Our Hudson PAC. Last month, national Democrats from the Progressive Caucus sent a letter to DCCC Chair Maloney and other Democratic leaders calling on them to publicly condemn the flood of super PAC spending in primaries. The letter was led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Mark Pocan (Wisc.), and Jamie Raskin (Md.).
Local groups in New York’s 17th Congressional District including Rockland United, Peekskill Progressives, and Progressive Women of New York also sent Maloney a letter in July endorsing the Progressive Caucus members’ letter and asking him to join the call, but Maloney declined to issue any sort of condemnation of super PAC spending.
The Maloney campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the spending by Our Hudson PAC.
For the direct mail pieces, the newly-formed super PAC used an unknown vendor named Winning Edge Strategies. Records with the New York Department of State show that Winning Edge Strategies was registered on Sept. 30, 2021 and has an address listed as the offices of Manhattan law firm Eiseman Levine Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis. The company’s service of process contact is an attorney in the law firm’s corporate & securities practice. Winning Edge Strategies has not had any other clients in federal elections, according to FEC records, and no other political group had tapped the company for work in New York, according to the state Board of Elections.
Eiseman Levine has at least one tie to prominent moderate Democrats in New York who would be likely to prefer Maloney over Biaggi. An attorney now at Eiseman Levine, Lawrence A. Mandelker, was previously entwined with a group of New York state lawmakers called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which broke away from Democratic state senators in 2011 to caucus with Republicans, working with the state GOP for more than seven years.
On issues ranging from a state system of universal healthcare to marijuana legalization to state immigration reform, the Senate IDC’s members sided with Republicans to block legislation while former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo quietly blessed the arrangement to consolidate political power. Facing pressure over its obstruction from the Democratic grassroots and a coalition of liberal groups called True Blue NY, the IDC moved to dissolve in April 2018.
Later in 2018, then-first-time candidate Biaggi successfully primaried the IDC’s leader, state Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, despite being enormously outspent in the contest, one of six losses that year in Democratic primaries dealt to IDC members.
Mandelker had worked as a lawyer for IDC senators and a centrist New York third party, the Independence Party, when the groups created a joint fundraising committee, the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, at the center of a multi-year campaign finance dispute. Created in 2016, the joint committee boosted the IDC’s ability to fundraise amounts in the six figures and make unlimited transfers to defend its incumbents, empowering then-IDC leader Klein and putting at stake $1.4 million in contributions that were ruled to be illegal by a state Supreme Court justice.
Winning Edge Strategies is one of a total of ten companies incorporated in New York that have listed Eiseman Levine’s office as its address.
Mandelker and law firm Eiseman Levine did not respond to requests for comment about Winning Edge Strategies’ sole known client, Our Hudson PAC. Mandelker has a longtime practice of government relations representing New York politicos and advising business clients on lobbying laws.
This summer, the Working Families Party switched its endorsement to support Biaggi’s bid for the House seat in New York’s newly-redrawn 17th Congressional District. In the 2018 contests, the progressive party helped endorsees like Biaggi with organizing and fundraising in their challenges to IDC members.
The attack mailers come amid a nationwide influx of spending by deep-pocketed super PACs in Democratic primaries, overwhelmingly opposing progressive candidates like Biaggi, who is rejecting corporate PAC donations in her bid, and supporting more moderate candidates like Maloney, whose campaign has received nearly half a million dollars through June of this election cycle from business PACs, according to OpenSecrets.
Shortly before being elected as DCCC chair, Maloney had paid heed to the idea of avoiding amplifying Republican attacks on Democratic candidates. In a November 2020 MSNBC interview on the slogan “defund the police,” Maloney said, “First of all, the Democratic House majority is not, you know, responsible for that rhetoric. In fact, no one’s responsible except the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd.” Around the same time, Maloney also told CNN that the “defund the police” slogan had no substance in congressional legislation, saying, “I don’t plan to enhance the attack by echoing it.”
Ana Hall, campaign manager for Biaggi for Congress, told Sludge, “Sean Patrick Maloney’s reliance on dark money super PACs is no surprise. Mr. Maloney has spent the past decade raising cash from corporate PACs and special interests, and then delivering for his special interest donors in Congress. Now they want to return the favor.”
This cycle, DCCC Chair Maloney has raised more than $3.4 million through his campaign committee, while Biaggi has raised over $670,000 in contributions for her congressional run, according to FEC records.
This article was updated with Our Hudson PAC’s donor information after its pre-primary report was posted by the FEC on Aug. 11, 2022.