The New York State Board of Elections has instructed members of the Independent Democratic Conference, including two Queens senators, to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations they received ahead of the September 13 party primaries.
The group of eight Democrats, included State Sen. Jose Peralta and State Sen. Tony Avella from Queens, agreed to caucus with the Republicans starting in 2011. Their collaboration with the Republicans shifted the balance of the 63-member chamber and ensured a GOP majority.
The money that the Board of Elections ordered to be returned had come from a fundraising committee established by state’s Independence Party. Last month, a State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor ruled that the fundraising arrangement between the Independence Party and the IDC members was illegal. The case was filed by the Board of Elections in 2017.
“To allow the Independence Party to turn over a party committee to members of the IDC, enrolled Democrats, would open the door to political parties allowing other independent bodies or special interest groups, regardless of party affiliation, to control party committees, have their own housekeeping accounts and receive benefits afforded solely to party and constituted committees under the Election Law,” O’Connor wrote in a decision reported by Politico New York.
Avella represents District 11, which includes College Point, Bay Terrace, Bayside and Little Neck. Peralta represents District 13, which includes Astoria, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona.
Avella has raised more than $170,000 ahead of the September election. However, just seven people contributed to Avella’s campaign, including Greater New York Hospital Association executive David Rich, who pitched in $10,300, Queens County Politics reported.
Queens County Politics reported that Peralta outraised challenger Jessica Ramos despite also having fewer donors. Meanwhile, The Senate Independence Campaign Committee donated $113,500 to Peralta’s campaign.
The IDC’s defection from the mainline Democrats has infuriated many voters and inspired several primary challengers, including Ramos. In a statement, Ramos criticized her opponent and demanded he return the money.
“Enough is enough,” Ramos said. “The courts and the Board of Election have spoken: Jose Peralta must return this illegal money. If he doesn’t, we’ll know Peralta thinks he can only win by using illegal campaign funds.”