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Bronson campaign gets $100,000 boost from state teachers' union

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A month before the June 23 primary election, a political fundraising arm of the New York State United Teachers union made a $100,000 donation to a sleepy political action committee out of Brooklyn called Progress NYS.

The effects of that gift are now being felt in pockets of the Rochester area, where enrolled Democrats are being peppered with ads for Harry Bronson, an incumbent state legislator who is fending off a spirited challenge for his party’s nomination for the 138th Assembly District seat. 
Assembly member Harry Bronson. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Assembly member Harry Bronson.

State campaign finance records show the contribution, the largest made by the Voice of Teachers for Education-Committee on Political Education (VOTE-COPE) to any political committee this year, has nearly all been spent by Progress NYS on behalf of Bronson.

In the last two weeks, Progress NYS dropped $49,500 on cable television commercials, put $35,525 toward political mailings, and spent another $8,500 on a “live telephone program,” records show.

Collectively, the $93,525 spent by Progress NYS to date supporting Bronson has effectively tripled marketing spending for the Bronson campaign, according to a review of campaign finance records filed with the state Board of Elections.

The expenditures are the latest local example of the outsized influence of so-called dark money in politics — a term that refers to largely anonymous outside spending on campaigns.

Very little can be gleaned about Progress NYS from its financial disclosure filings. Tracing the money for Bronson back to VOTE-COPE was only possible by the fact that VOTE-COPE is the sole source of financing for Progress NYS. Prior to the infusion of cash from VOTE-COPE, Progress NYS had $60 in the bank, according to its financial disclosure filings.



Bronson’s opponent, Alex Yudelson, who eked out the local Democratic party’s endorsement in an internal party election fraught with controversy, has sought to make the transactions between Progress NYS and VOTE-COPE a campaign issue.

“If you see Assemblyman Bronson on TV or in your mailbox in the coming days,” read a statement from Yudelson, “know that it’s because Albany special interests believe Assemblyman Bronson will help maintain the status quo and want you to send him back to Albany.”
Alex Yudelson, Mayor Lovely Warren’s chief of staff, is challenging Assembly member Harry Bronson for the 138th Assembly District seat. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Alex Yudelson, Mayor Lovely Warren’s chief of staff, is challenging Assembly member Harry Bronson for the 138th Assembly District seat.

The statement was a direct reference to the differences the candidates have over the future management of the Rochester City School District.

Yudelson, the chief of staff to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, wants to see the school board disbanded and the state take over the district. His is a stance mirrored by the mayor.

Bronson wants to keep the board intact and helped push through legislation to have the district overseen by an academic and fiscal monitor.

Despite winning the Democratic party’s endorsement, Yudelson has struggled to keep up with Bronson on the fundraising front. To date, the Bronson campaign has spent $155,000 on the race compared to $61,000 by Yudelson, campaign finance records show.

The 138th Assembly District seat they’re fighting to represent covers parts of Rochester and the suburban towns of Chili and Henrietta.

On Tuesday, after Progress NYS filed its disclosures with the state showing spending on the “live telephone program” and additional campaign literature for Bronson, the Bronson campaign issued a statement in response to media inquiries.

“Harry is hard at work tackling the important issues we’re all facing right now,” the statement read in part. “He doesn’t have time to pay attention to the misleading information and other nonsense his opponent is using to misinform voters. In fact, he only learned about these ads when his opponent brought them to the media’s attention.”

Yudelson first raised objections to the involvement of Progress NYS prior to the candidates’ debate last week. His objections included insinuating that the contribution from VOTE-COPE to Progress NYS skirted campaign finance laws on contributions limits.

State law caps donations from political actions committees to individual campaigns at $4,700 for a primary election and $4,700 for a general election.

Campaign finance records show VOTE-COPE has given twice to the Bronson campaign this election cycle — a $4,700 donation specifically for the primary, and a separate $2,200 gift — on top of the $100,0000 it gave to Progress NYS, most of which has gone to support Bronson.
Supporters of Assembly Member Harry Bronson wave signs at the Monroe County Democratic Committee's designating convention at Workers United Hall in Rochester on Saturday, February 1, 2020. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Supporters of Assembly Member Harry Bronson wave signs at the Monroe County Democratic Committee's designating convention at Workers United Hall in Rochester on Saturday, February 1, 2020.
The treasurer of Progress NYS is a man named James Tison, who brands himself as an actor and writer and whom financial disclosures show lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

A message left for Tison on a social media account belonging to him was returned by a partner of Red Horse Strategies, the New York City-based political consulting firm that Progress NYS hired to handle the marketing for Bronson.

The partner, Matthew Rey, a seasoned Democratic campaign strategist, declined to comment on the Progress NYS monies or what relationship, if any, there was between his firm and the political action committee.

Matthew Hamilton, a spokesperson for NYSUT, the state teachers’ union, which shares an address in Albany with VOTE-COPE, also declined to comment on that committee’s donation to Progress NYS.

He issued a statement citing the union’s support for Bronson, specifically his record on policies and funding for public education.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.