From the outset, Lee Zeldin was bound to be outspent.
Since the primary, Gov. Kathy Hochul, according to figures from the state Board of Elections, has spent almost four times what the Long Island congressman has.
He has to play catch-up.
“As of about a week and a half ago, our side was spending more on TV than she was,” Zeldin said earlier this month.
Zeldin refers to outside groups as “our side.” Providing serious help behind the scenes are two independent expenditure committees - Save our State New York and Safe Together New York. Both groups have spent a combined $8.4 million on Zeldin’s behalf since the primary.
The main backer of that group is Ronald Lauder — the heir to the cosmetics fortune Estée Lauder and a reliable Republican contributor who once ran for mayor of New York City. He’s given nearly $8 million to the group. And he gave another million dollars to Save our State.
That group has raised a total $3.1 million from real estate executives, a casino magnate, the Republican Governor’s Association and more.
They’re spending on television ads.
And they’re targeting commuters, specifically on Hochul’s support for congestion pricing, which Zeldin opposes, and sending digital adds to any driver who crosses a bridge using cell phone data.
Staten Island Councilmember Joe Borelli is the group’s spokesman.
“We’re still raising money,” said Joe Borelli. “We’re still trying to get every dollar we can.”
Borelli is also a co-chair of Zeldin’s campaign. That and other connections between the campaign and these independent groups have led to accusations of possible coordination. State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs filed a complaint saying as much this week with the state Board of Elections.
NY1 asked whether there was any coordination. Zeldin responded tersely.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Independent groups can spend as much as they want in elections, but they cannot coordinate with campaigns.
Earlier this month, Zeldin himself said he was relying on this outside spending to boost his candidacy.
“There are multiple independent expenditures also in the race,” said Zeldin. “One is Safe Together. They have an ad out focused on crime. The other is an independent expenditure called Save Our State. Together for the last week and a half, our side is outspending them.”
Save Our State denies any coordination.
“We don’t have to coordinate,” said Borelli. “Everyone knows what the major issues are out there. It’s crime. It’s the economy. It’s everyone is less safe. It’s the result of having unbridled one-party rule for almost a decade.”
As for his own campaign, Zeldin raised more than $6.2 million in the latest filing — not as much as Hochul but a surprising show of support.
A large chunk of that haul came from a New Jersey fundraiser headlined by former President Donald Trump, who has since endorsed Zeldin’s candidacy. The campaign says that event brought in $1.5 million.
No surprise since Zeldin has been a consistent supporter of the former president too.
“What this race is about is Lee Zeldin against Kathy Hochul and deciding the future of New York state. It’s not about the former president,” he said earlier this week.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 29.