You might hear a bit about the Independent Democratic Conference this election cycle. That’s the group of eight breakaway Democrats in the State Senate who collaborated for years with Republicans and helped keep the chamber under GOP control.
In an election-year simmering with Democratic energy, it’s not surprising that the powers that be in New York (Gov. Andrew Cuomo and union leaders) succeeded in convincing those renegade members to come back to the fold, over a backroom meal in April. In NY, at least, politicians seem to be aware that voters don’t want centrist deal making under President Donald Trump.
But the intra-party dispute was not fully buried. Challengers have sprung up to face the renegades, and those insurgents are hammering away at the IDC on the campaign trail as if the conference is still present.
And in a way, it is, as a Friday letter from the state Board of Elections’ enforcement division shows. The former IDC members are still benefiting from a tricky bureaucratic maneuver begun in 2016 that allowed members to subvert campaign finance limits.
As with all things IDC-related, this is messy. It starts with the IDC — remember, registered Democrats who empower Republicans in the State Senate — joining with the Independence Party to create a campaign committee. These types of accounts are important in state politics because they can receive big donations and then dole out unlimited money to candidates. Otherwise, there are limits on contributions to State Senate candidates ($7,000 in the primary for 2018).
The workaround allowed the IDC to feed its members just like other parties did, without actually being a party that held primaries and so forth. And it worked — hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to members to defeat opponents in 2016.
This June, however, a State Supreme Court justice ruled that parts of this practice were illegal.
That brings us to the present. Though the campaign committee had solved some issues by reshuffling its leadership in April ahead of the court ruling, the BOE’s oversight division maintains that the fundraising situation is still murky. A letter from a BOE oversight lawyer to former IDC members on Friday calls for them to refund certain improper donations and provide more information on where donations went and how all this was organized.
The letter does not indicate how much money should be refunded, but some potentially problematic money seems to have made its way into the coffers of current candidates. Take Manhattan Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who received tens of thousands from the campaign committee before that April reshuffling. That’s a real amount for her, given that she has just over $100,000 on hand as of July filings.
In her case and others, the old IDC money could help even in a supposedly non-IDC world.
Could legal action drag that money away before the Sept. 13 primary? The clock is ticking. The former IDC members haven’t returned any funds and aggressively argue that they don’t have to. The BOE’s enforcement division could bring the issue back to court, but the June decision on this issue came almost a year after the BOE began the lawsuit.
So, the IDC money may live on. That will certainly be a potent political issue for challengers in the coming months. Just another example of internal Democratic division that hasn’t quite died.