How much is one state Senate seat worth? For outside organizations seeking to influence policy in Albany, it runs into the millions of dollars.
Big time spending in state Senate races is not new. Businesses and labor unions alike recognize the policy outcomes in Albany, especially in the state Senate, carry potentially more weight for their interests than a gridlocked Congress in Albany.
The money is useful indicator to follow who is in power, too, as a prominent education reform group seeks to be a force in these campaigns.
Democratic state Sen. Kevin Thomas is heading back to Albany in 2021 for a second term, winning re-election to a Long Island district that saw a flood of outside cash seeking to influence voters. Thomas and Democrats declared victory on Monday after absentee ballots put him ahead of his Republican opponent, Dennis Dunne.
“I am deeply honored to be reelected by the residents of the 6th Senate District," Thomas said in a statement on Monday. "Following a very close election in 2018, I am thrilled to have won a larger margin this year, and I know that is because of my hard work fighting for this community, Long Island, and all of New York State. I look forward to continuing my efforts to build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous Long Island and New York State, and I thank the voters for their support.”
Thomas seat is not pivotal to control of the state Senate as Democrats were the odds-on favorites to keep power next year. But it was among a handful of toss-up seats in the chamber that could determine whether Democrats hold a supermajority that has the real-world consequence of controlling redistricting -- the power of drawing legislative boundaries -- into the new term.
Thomas was among the Democratic incumbents whose re-election was targeted by an independent expenditure committee funded by billionaire Ron Lauder, who poured millions of dollars into several races.
A committee run by the New York City PBA, seeking to punish Democrats for criminal justice law changes approved in the most recent term, also spent heavily in the Thomas race: The PBA spent $578,740 on TV and radio ads in the district to oppose his re-election.
But backing Thomas was a group that had in the past supported Republicans in the state Senate: StudentsFirstNY, an education reform group.
The group funds the political action committee New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, one of the largest outside supporters for Senate Democrats, spent $6.3 million on their candidates this election cycle.
More than half of that, $3.6 million, went to the Thomas race alone to support his re-election.
The PAC spent six weeks running broadcast and TV ads in the market, one attacking Thomas's GOP opponent and another supporting the incumbent. The gorup also spent heavily on digital advertising, promoting Thomas's endorsements from Joe Biden and Newsday. And the group went to the more traditional voter contact methods of phone banking as well as sending out seven pieces of mail to 23,000 households.
The PAC in prior election cycles has been funded by some of the more vocal supporters of charter schools in New York and in turn supported Republican candidates for the state Senate.
That changed after 2018, however, when Democrats won a full majority in the state Senate and control of the chamber. And now the group may have helped to play a role in giving Democrats in the Senate a supermajority.