In the race for New York’s 23rd Congressional district, money divides incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R–N.Y. 29) and Democratic candidate Nathan Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09 almost as much as political opinion.
According to the most recent data provided by the Federal Election Commission and the candidates, Reed has raised $1.4 million — approximately three times as much as his Democratic rival Nathan Shinagawa ’05, M.A. ’09, who has raised approximately $500,000.
FEC disclosures from June show that the two candidates rely on divergent sources of funding. Reed’s campaign has raised 53.8 percent of its money from what the FEC calls “other committee contributions,” commonly known as political action committees.
In contrast, Shinagawa’s campaign has raised only 8.6 percent of its funds from PACs. As of June, the campaign’s largest source of donations comes from individual donors. According to the disclosures, 63.3 percent of Shinagawa’s donations have come from individuals who have donated at least $200. An additional 24 percent of donations comes from individuals who have donated less than $200.
Reed’s percentages for donations made by individuals above and below $200 are 35.6 percent and 3.3 percent respectively.
Shinagawa said that a major difference between his campaign and Reed’s was Reed’s reliance on contributions from the oil, gas and banking industries.
“The majority of Tom Reed’s money comes from corporate PACs,” Shinagawa said. “He has heavy backing from the big banks and the oil and gas industries.”
Shinagawa described his campaign funding as inherently different from Reed’s.
“The vast majority of my money comes from individuals, most of my PAC money comes from organized middle class workers,” Shinagawa said.
Over several weeks, FEC disclosures seem to support Shinagawa’s statements. Reed has, for example, received a $5,000 donation from the Chesapeake Energy Corporation PAC and a total of $5,000 in separate donations from the Exxon Mobil Corporation PAC.
The “organized middle class workers” Shinagawa said have supported his campaign are primarily union PACs. Shinagawa has received $5,000 each from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Shinagawa, however, said he is not satisfied with the the intense focus current candidates must place on campaign finance, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited political expenditures by corporations and unions independent of official campaigns.
“This is one of my favorite topics,” Shinagawa said. “I support a ban on corporate personhood. I think we need a constitutional amendment for that.”
Currently, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of corporate personhood protects political spending by incorporated entities under the First Amendment. Shinagawa’s proposed constitutional ban would remove this protection and overrule the decision. Shinagawa said he supports full public financing — a process through which some candidates receive a fixed amount of public money to campaign — as a replacement for private donations.
“Public financing encourages politicians to go door to door among their constituents instead of collecting money across the country from people they don’t represent as well as corporations,” Shinagawa said.
In an interview last week, Tim Kolpien, communications director for Tom Reed for Congress, said Reed would not support public financing of elections. Despite multiple attempts by The Sun since last week, neither Kolpien nor Reed has responded to requests to discuss the funding of this Congressional race.
James Drader, chair of the Tompkins County Republican Party also expressed his opposition to public financing, though he said he did not speak for the Reed campaign.
According to Drader, the Supreme Court made the right decision in the Citizens United ruling.
“In all honesty,” Drader said, “I think it was a fair decision. As long as it’s fair on both sides — for unions and corporations — that’s good … I can see where too much money would be a bad thing, but when you have two major parties like we do, you have to make it even on both sides, it’s a moot point.”
Shinagawa disagreed with this sentiment.
“Corporate money represents very narrow interests,” Shinagawa said. “Corporations already have a voice in the individual system. A CEO can donate to campaigns as well. With a corporate PAC you lose accountability."
Drader, however, does not believe there is any important distinction between individual and corporate PAC donations.
“Of course corporate donations are trying to further their own cause, but on the flipside, the individual donations are trying to do the same thing for the individuals themselves … public financing sounds nice in theory, but I don’t think it could ever work in the real political world,” Drader said.