WATERTOWN — The race for New York’s 21st Congressional District is haunted by the past. The very recent past.
This week, the campaigns of Democrat Aaron G. Woolf and Republican Elise M. Stefanik have brought allegations of impropriety against the other reminiscent of themes brought to the fore during Ms. Stefanik’s contest with Matthew A. Doheny, whom she defeated by more than 20 percentage points in June.
On Tuesday, Mr. Woolf’s campaign issued a fundraising email to supporters asking to help him fight attempts to privatize Medicare or turn it into a voucher system.
Then he leveled the boom.
“Our opponent helped craft the Paul Ryan Budget that sought to privatize Medicare. And once again this year, far-right Republicans proposed the privatization of Medicare in their 2015 budget. That would end Medicare as we know it today and cost seniors more in the process,” the email, signed “Aaron,” read.
Without mentioning Ms. Stefanik by name, Mr. Woolf’s campaign tied her to the fiscal year 2015 House Republican budget, known to it’s supporters as “The Path to Prosperity,” and to everyone else as the “Ryan budget.”
The budget, which passed the House in April with a 219-205 vote, was viewed as a statement of the Republican Party’s priorities and not as a practical bill that would be passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The budget involved a couple of controversial plans, including a proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program for those who will begin enrolling in the program in 2024.
Democrats across the country have adopted the opposition of the Ryan budget as a call to supporters, especially those in or near retirement.
The only problem is, as near as anyone can tell, Ms. Stefanik had nothing to do with the Ryan budget.
“The answer is no; she had no involvement,” said House Budget Committee spokesman Brian Bolduc, in an email.
“We find it amazing that Woolf would outright lie to voters in a personal plea for Congress,” wrote Ms. Stefanik’s press secretary Charlotte Guyette, in an email Wednesday.
But Mr. Woolf’s campaign doubled-down on its statement, asserting that Ms. Stefanik’s relationship with both the Republican Party and with Mr. Ryan, who serves as the representative for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, meant she played an integral role in crafting his budget.
Ms. Stefanik worked for Mr. Ryan as director of debate prep during his 2012 vice presidential bid and she was the policy director of the 2012 Republican National Platform. Her name appears second from the top on the page listing platform staff, just below the executive director.
Stuart Rosenberg, Mr. Woolf’s campaign manager, made the following statement regarding Ms. Stefanik’s alleged involvement in the plan:
“Elise Stefanik worked for Paul Ryan, a chief architect for ending the Medicare guarantee and turning it into a privatized voucher system, in Washington, D.C. She worked for him in vice-presidential debate prep as he stood in support of his House Republican plan to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system. His Republican budget was proposed in 2012, the same year that she was working for Paul Ryan and assisting with his debate prep. And his proposal in 2012 matched what was included in the Republican National Platform; ending the Medicare guarantee through a privatized voucher system. To now assert she does not support, nor had any involvement, in Paul Ryan’s support for turning Medicare into a privatized voucher system during her tenure working for Paul Ryan is inconsistent with the facts.”
According to Ms. Guyette, these accusations are patently false for three reasons.
■ Ms. Stefanik is on record saying she would not have voted for the Ryan budget during a debate with Mr. Doheny broadcase on Time Warner Cable News in May
■ She did not work with Mr. Ryan when the budget was crafted
■ She has never worked in the U.S. House of Representatives
As the allegations about false statements were being made, the Times was investigating claims by Mr. Woolf’s campaign that Ms. Stefanik was engaging in the same kind of sloppy accounting and payroll practices that landed her former opponent in hot water with the New York state Department of Labor. These allegations largely proved to be false.
According to a March 4 statement, Matt Masterson, a Troy native, was hired as Ms. Stefanik’s campaign manager and, according to Federal Election Commission filings, Mr. Masterson was paid equal installments of $7,000 in April, May and June and a one-time payment of $1,186.48 on May 12.
According to Mr. Rosenberg, those payments indicated that Ms. Stefanik’s campaign was not withholding income tax from Mr. Masterson’s paycheck, as required by law for full-time employees.
In an email dated July 24, Ms. Guyette wrote that Mr. Masterson was paid as a consultant in the primary and was issued a 1099 form.
“He will be on the payroll for the general (election),” Ms. Guyette wrote.
In May, one of Mr. Doheny’s former staffers, Alicia M. Sirk, had a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Board in Schenectady to determine whether she was eligible to receive benefit payments from Mr. Doheny’s campaign. Mrs. Sirk, who claimed she was injured in a car accident while working for Mr. Doheny, was listed as deputy campaign manager and director of campaign operations in documents from the candidate’s 2012 bid for the seat held by Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Mr. Owens is not seeking re-election this year.
Ms. Stefanik, a former White House policy advisor who lives in Willsboro, and Mr. Woolf, a documentary filmmaker with a home in Elizabethtown, are facing each other in a November general election. Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello, a bakery and cafe owner from Glens Falls, is also running in the election.
The issue of whether or not Ms. Sirk was eligible to receive benefits hinged on whether she was employed by the Doheny campaign as a full-time employee or an independent contractor.
On Oct. 5, 2012, Ms. Sirk was awarded $34,383 in reimbursements and unpaid wages after the state Department of Labor determined she was a full-time employee for the purposes of receiving unemployment benefits. According to the state Department of Labor’s website, there are several criteria used to determine whether someone is a full-time employee or an independent contractor, including the amount of supervision a contractor or employee receives, whether an employee or contractor has his or her own established business and whether an employee or contractor pays his or her own expenses.
However, these criteria are open to interpretation.
“...If your employer gives you a 1099 form rather than a W-2 form, you may still be an employee,” reads part of the state’s guidelines.
According to the Department of Labor, you may be an employee even if:
■ Your employer makes you sign a statement that you are an independent contractor
■ You waive any rights as an employee
■ Your employer makes you obtain a “doing business as” name to work for him or her
According to Ms. Stefanik’s attorney Michael E. Toner, Mr. Masterson’s employment arrangement with Ms. Stefanik was “entirely legally appropriate.”
Mr. Toner, who is also a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that while campaigns, which tend to be temporary in nature, continue to grapple with these issues, there are a couple of factors used to determine the nature of an employment arrangement.
Those factors include how senior a role the employee occupies as well as whether the role is really full time or not. Mr. Toner also said that it is not unusual for campaigns to convert independent contractors to full-time employees or vice-versa in the middle of an election season.
As campaign manager, Mr. Masterson would be considered to be occupying a senior role.
His employment status changed from independent contractor to full-time employee because general elections require more time from those who work on them, according to Mr. Toner.