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Report documents big money in NY races

A group that opposes big money in politics has issued a report showing that a handful of billionaires are contributing heavily to Republican congressional campaigns in New York.

The group, known as Hedge Clippers, is funded by a number of progressive organizations, as well as the major teachers unions. The group’s Michael Kink said its report finds billionaires with conservative political leanings — including the heirs to the Walmart fortune and the Mercer family — gave $29 million to help GOP candidates running for office in New York during the current election cycle.

“These are the guys paying for the divisive ads,” Kink said. “The mailers with scary pictures of immigrant families, the racially charged TV and digital ads.”

The money from the wealthy individuals goes to targeted mailings, which sometimes attack Democratic candidates, and for ads financed by independent political action committees, or PACs.

The ads include one against the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th district, Antonio Delgado. It is paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which receives donations from the billionaires.

Delgado, who is African-American, grew up in Schenectady in the Eastern New York district and is a Rhodes scholar who graduated from Harvard. But two ads focus on Delgado’s brief musical career in rap, where some of his songs contained racially charged words.

One ad refers to him as a “big city rapper.” Another ad features some of the lyrics from Delgado’s rap songs, with offensive words bleeped out.

Delgado’s opponent in the race, Republican John Faso, disavowed the ads during a recent debate on PBS affiliate WMHT.

“Those are not my ads,” said Faso, who admitted the ads are “provocative” but also said they accurately depict the lyrics in Delgado’s rap songs.

Faso said he does not want anyone to cast a vote for him based on ideas about race.

Kink said if Faso wanted the ads to end, he has the power to do so.

“If John Faso went to (GOP Speaker of the House) Paul Ryan and said, ‘Stop the ads,’ the ads would stop,” Kink said.

Kink said the wealthy donors paying for the ads espouse views that many New Yorkers might not agree with, like cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for recently approved deep tax cuts. He said the ads “keep us divided.”

The Hedge Clippers said they’d rather have a campaign finance system that gets funding from small contributions from individuals.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.