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NYSNYS NEWS: Amid protests and endorsements super-PAC money becomes an issue in Saratoga Springs elections.
NYSNYS NEWS: Amid protests and endorsements super-PAC money becomes an issue in Saratoga Springs elections. By Kyle Hughes NYSNYS News SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (October 22) — Chanting “Saratoga’s not for sale” and “money out, voters in,” a small band of protesters gathered outside the Holiday Inn Tuesday to condemn Saratoga PAC, a new political group meeting inside to announce its endorsements. Saratoga PAC chair Robert Manz, a construction company executive who lives in the city, said such criticism is “uninformed. Clearly we have come together as a group of local residents and in the four months we have been in existence we have done two major things,” conducting a voter survey on issues and interviewing candidates for city office. “That’s all we’ve done, so the rhetoric that you hear is inaccurate,” Manz said, saying Saratoga PAC is not funding campaigns. “We don’t donate to the candidates.” But the protesters said Saratoga PAC is part of the growing influence of special interest money in elections, whether for mayor of Saratoga or president of the United States. “SuperPACs allow millionaires, billionaires to spend an unlimited amount of money to buy elections,” rally organizer Joe Seeman said. “That’s not democracy, that’s plutocracy. We’re here to say no to the Saratoga PAC, no to super-PACs and yes to democracy.” “This is why you have elected officials who serve the interests of the rich and they don’t serve the interests of the average people,” he said, calling such PACs corrupt. “PACs are all about legalized corruption,” added Regina Camilletti, another protester. “It’s very sad to see one here in our city. And this is just not a local issue, this is a massive national issue.” She was referring to the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that legalizes unlimited donations to independent political action committees. The court found that PACs are engaged in constitutionally protected free speech and can spend the money on ads, get out the vote campaigns and other political activities as long as they remain independent of a candidate or campaign committee. One such PAC called Priorities USA whose organizers support Hillary Clinton said last month they have raised more than $40 million. An earlier PAC called Ready for Hillary also raised millions, shutting down when she entered the president race and sending over many of its top staff to her campaign. On the Republican side, Jeb Bush founded a super-PAC called Right to Rise which is now supporting his campaign, though it is legally independent. Donald Trump is aligned with the Make America Great Again PAC. Such PACS are controversial and commonplace now in state and national campaigns, but the Saratoga PAC is one of the few focusing on local races in New York. Tuesday, Saratoga PAC announced endorsements of both Democratic and Republican candidates including GOP candidates John Safford for mayor and Richard Wirth for Public Safety commissioner. Democrats William McTygue (Public Works), Michele Madigan (Finance) and John Franck (Accounts) also won endorsements. Saratoga operates under an unusual commissioner form of government that puts members of the city council in charge of various departments and responsibilities, decentralizing political power. Municipal elections have not attracted much attention in the 100 years since the city was incorporated, but an influx of wealthy newcomers and a wave of high end development has put this year’s election in a spotlight. Seeman said the protesters were “an independent group of people,” some of whom have worked on campaign finance reform campaigns with Citizen Action and, which support Democratic Party positions on healthcare, public campaign financing and other issues. At the PAC meeting, Manz offered brief remarks and a PowerPoint slideshow summarizing the results of the survey. Organizers also handed out copies of endorsement flyer that will be going to out city households. The group also plans an insert in the Saratogian. In the flyer, the group cited improvements to city water, sewer and infrastructure, new development in outlying districts, and reducing violent crime and panhandling as issues of concern. -30-