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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Washington D.C.-based watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Andrew Heaney, who is running for the Republican nomination in New York state’s 19th Congressional District. The complaint accuses Heaney’s campaign of illegal coordination with New York Jobs Council, a political action committee that appears to have been created by him.

The complaint, lodged by the Campaign for Accountability, focuses on a series of donations made to the NY Jobs Council, a PAC founded in June 2015, according to registration papers filed with the FEC. The committee has raised $60,000 to date, mostly during a two-week period last summer. But in financial disclosures available on the FEC website, $55,000 of those contributions have come from companies owned by Heaney or Skaggs Walsh, a fuel oil company now owned by his sister, Alison Heaney.

The National Memo reached out to the Heaney campaign for comment but so far none has been forthcoming.

Shortly after the donations were made, Heaney filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC in August, 2015. Since then, the report alleges, Heaney “almost certainly directed his companies to funnel at least $20,000 to a recently-created Washington, D.C.-based independent expenditure-only political committee called NY Jobs Council.” The committee has broadcast a total of 86 tweets, 21 of them attacking John Faso, former minority leader in the New York State Assembly and another of the Republicans currently competing for the party’s nomination in the 19th Congressional District.

“This is an obvious case where someone has some illegal coordination going on,” said Daniel Stevens, deputy director at the Campaign for Accountability. “Sure, the amount may be small, but breaking the law is breaking the law.”

The NY Jobs Council lacks a website or much description of its mission on its Twitter page, other than “supporting candidates for Congress who are dedicated to public policies that create jobs for our great state.” The committee is headed by Rob Cole, who also runs In The Field, a consulting firm that appears among a few recipients of funds filed by the NY Jobs Council. Cole, a well-known Republican political operative, heads the consulting firm with James “Jake” Menges, another Republican operative who once nearly choked a New York City Councillor in front of cameras in 1998.

Cole and Menges also run a firm called Crimson Public Affairs, and although their names or faces don’t appear on its site, the firm is registered under their names in Florida. The Heaney campaign has paid Mr. Menges and Crimson for consulting work, while NY Jobs Council has paid In the Field for consulting. In addition, both the Heaney campaign and NY Jobs Council paid the Jackson-Alvarez Group for research.

With Cole and Menges working for the Heaney for Congress campaign through Crimson Public Affairs, and NY Jobs Council through In the Field, it is difficult to determine whether or not those firms are providing NY Jobs Council with any information they also shared with the Heaney campaign.

Heaney presented himself as a small business owner who worked his way up via his family oil company in Queens. Since the Fifties his family has owned Skaggs Walsh, which donated $35,000 to the NY Jobs Council at end of June, 2015. His campaign’s biography page alludes to Skaggs Walsh without naming the company specifically. A further $20,000 came from Heaney Energy Corporation, Little Deep, and Submarine Rock, all businesses owned by Heaney, according to the Campaign for Accountability.

“There are laws against coordination and that appears to be what Heaney and the super PAC are doing,” said Stevens.

The FEC has the power to fine political parties and campaigns for violating its rules. The Ohio Republican Party was fined in mid-January for failing to disclose some $70,000 in political receipts. But with the advent of the Citizens United ruling, campaign finance laws have been hollowed out and enforcement comes late, if ever.

Yet the revelations could strengthen Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham law professor who recently announced she was running for the Democratic nomination in the 19th Congressional District. For now the local Republican nominating race looks much like the party’s presidential nominating process, complete with angry infighting and dubious practices.

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