Harry Wilson sues Lee Zeldin for campaign money ahead of primary

Dark Horse Republican gubernatorial hopeful Harry Wilson is suing rival Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) and the state Board of Elections ahead of the June 28 GOP primary for governor over what Wilson claims is a litany of violations campaign finance.

“The Zeldin campaign has employed a number of illegal fundraising schemes that use wealthy donors to evade clearly established contribution limits and illegally funnel excess money into its primary election campaign,” the lawsuit reads. pages. filed Wednesday night in the state Supreme Court in Albany County.

A hearing date had yet to be set in the case Thursday afternoon.

Wilson alleges that Zeldin improperly uses general election funds, money given to his running mate Alison Esposito, a former NYPD deputy inspector, and donations to his congressional campaign account after Zeldin announced his campaign for the governorship last year.

“This Court should act now to stop Lee Zeldin’s attempt to pile the deck under his campaign finance schemes,” reads the lawsuit, which seeks an injunction against the putative frontrunner for the GOP nomination over the use of these funds.

A Zeldin spokeswoman quickly fired back.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) attends a press conference May 20.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

“This is a frivolous, dishonest political stunt on Wilson’s part, which is totally baseless. Wilson just desperately wants a blockbuster story written for a campaign ad. That’s what Wilson needs to know that he is deliberately lying about the law on so many different levels,” spokeswoman Katie Vincentz said in an email.

The Long Island congressman is running against Wilson — a millionaire businessman who self-finances his campaign — former White House aide Andrew Giuliani and former Westchester County executive Rob Astorino in a year the GOP hopes to win its first statewide election in two decades.

Zeldin has received support from dozens of party leaders like State Speaker Nick Langworthy, but Wilson is pushing to upset the primary, arguing he would get better results in the general election against the eventual Democratic nominee, who will be probably Governor Kathy Hochul.

Wilson, a former economic adviser to Obama and the only pro-choice Republican in the race, narrowly lost a 2010 election to Democratic state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli after making his fortune in the private sector.

While Zeldin has raised millions more than Giuliani and Astorino, he has also spent a lot of money on TV commercials and other voter education activities – so much so that Wilson says Zeldon would effectively run out of money. campaign money if there were no disputed campaign funds.

“Lee Zeldin’s turbulent campaign is so mishandled that it has run out of money and is now breaking the law in a desperate attempt to stay afloat,” Wilson said in a statement Thursday.

Harry Wilson
Harry Wilson claims Rep. Zeldin misused campaign money before the GOP primary.
YouTube / Team Wilson

Zeldin reported $3.11 million on hand in a campaign filing in late May, but the Wilson campaign notes that this includes about $2.4 million in donations that exceed the $13,724 Republican primary contribution limit. This year.

Money transfers from a joint account created for Zeldin and Esposito total an additional $721,621, which the lawsuit says is illegal because the money primarily benefits Zeldin in the primary.

Zeldin told the Post at a press conference in Albany last week that he had done his homework on state campaign finance law and rules on the use of general election donations before a primary.

“I dot all my Is and cross all my Ts… We went to [our] treasurer, attorney and BOE all to confirm that the interpretation was correct that all of this money – we currently have over $3 million to date – can be spent by June 28,” Zeldin said.

Campaign Treasurer Nancy Marks is named alongside Zeldin and the BOE as a respondent in Wilson’s lawsuit.

The BOE allows general election contributions to be spent before a primary date because they effectively benefit a general election candidate, according to a spokeswoman.

“Each primary, general or special election campaign has its own limit. Therefore, contributors can donate up to the limit for each election in which the candidate participates. Candidates and committee treasurers must ensure that election limits are not exceeded and that such funds are expended only for the election to which they relate, unless they are excess funds left by a previous election, reads the state BOE website.

Representative Lee Zeldin
Representative Lee Zeldin stands with his Lieutenant Governor Alison Esposito at the NYGOP convention on March 1.
John Minchillo/AP

Some legal experts, however, dispute the BOE’s interpretation of state election law.

“General election contributions cannot be used in primary campaigns,” attorney Jerry Goldfeder, who supports Hochul, said in an email responding to Wilson’s complaint.

Gubernatorial and LG candidates from the same party appear together on the general election ballot and are effectively one person as far as state campaign finance rules are concerned.

This means that any donor who gave the maximum amount to both Zeldin and Esposito, who is running unopposed for the GOP nomination, for the general election would get a refund equal to the maximum donation to either of them. if Zeldin wins the primary, according to the BOE.

But that money wouldn’t have to be repaid if Wilson, Astorino or Giuliani won the primary.

A BOE spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan.

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