Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement
Andrew Cuomo's Corruption And Fraud On The People Of New York State: The Money Business
Andrew M. Cuomo is accepting money, lots of it, from the same special interests he promises to take on if elected New York's next governor. Cuomo amassed a $25.6 million campaign war chest in just two years and did it with the help of the same labor, business and political interests that have long influenced state government. The Democrat's friends and allies -- he has received more than 10,000 contributions over that time -- read like a who's who of people and companies doing business with New York State.
Following the Cuomo money trail
Big donors dominate $25 million war chest, so what do they want?
By Phil Fairbanks, Buffalo News, October 21, 2010
Andrew M. Cuomo is accepting money, lots of it, from the same special interests he promises to take on if elected New York's next governor.
Cuomo amassed a $25.6 million campaign war chest in just two years and did it with the help of the same labor, business and political interests that have long influenced state government.
The Democrat's friends and allies -- he has received more than 10,000 contributions over that time -- read like a who's who of people and companies doing business with New York State.
His donors range from Albany lobbyists and New York City real estate giants to public employee unions and health care providers.
It's a group littered with the rich and famous, names such as Leonard Lauder, Howard Rubenstein, and Donald and Ivanka Trump.
"Money flows to power," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "They assume Cuomo's going to win, so they fork over money in the hopes that when they make a phone call, someone will answer it."
A Buffalo News analysis of Cuomo's contributions dating from July 2008 found the following:
* One of every $3 raised by Cuomo came from corporations, partnerships, unions and other special interests.
* About half of Cuomo's donors gave him $1,000 or more, and 1 in 6 gave him $5,000 or more.
* A large percentage of his money came from New York City real estate interests that in some instances gave up to $100,000.
* Seven of every $10 that Cuomo took in across New York State came from New York City, Long Island or Westchester County.
* Cuomo's fundraising pales in comparison to previous candidates for governor, but he still refunded more money last month than his opponent took in.
Cuomo's reliance on wealthy downstate donors and their large contributions helped him build up a political bank account that a month ago, when the last accounting was made, still had a balance of $20 million.
That's 95 times more than what Republican candidate Carl P. Paladino had on hand, an edge Cuomo can attribute to hundreds of companies, unions, lobbyists and other special interests eager to have a friend in Albany.
New financial-disclosure reports, due out Friday, will provide a more up-to-date accounting of where the Cuomo and Paladino campaigns stand in the head-to-head race for cash.
"Andrew Cuomo has shown time and again that he will take money from anyone," said Paladino spokesman Michael R. Caputo. "A look at his list of high-dollar donors shows the usual suspects: big-money lobbyists, connected corporations, unions, pay-to-play artists and the ruling elite."
Cuomo declined to comment for this article, but one thing is certain: The state's wealthiest political donors view Cuomo as one of two things or maybe both -- the best person for the job or the most likely candidate to win.
If they're right, and front-running Cuomo does indeed defeat Paladino in the Nov. 2 general election, they may find themselves in the new governor's cross hairs.
Unions loom large
From the day he announced his candidacy in May, Cuomo has promised to take on Albany's dysfunction, including corruption that would "make Boss Tweed blush."
"We will be taking on very powerful special interests, which have much to lose," he said in a video announcing his candidacy. "We must change systems and cultures long in the making."
And what if those special interests are the same folks who ponied up big money to help you get elected?
"One of the reasons Albany's dysfunctional is the way they finance elections," said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice, the New York University organization that has repeatedly described the State Legislature as the country's most dysfunctional.
Cuomo, of course, is no different than most other candidates for governor, said Torres-Spelliscy. They finance their campaigns with big-money donations from special interests, she said, and, if successful, they soon find themselves facing the prospect of having to say "no" to them.
Does Cuomo have the will to do that? Can he say "no" to the Teamsters or the Service Employees International Union, two of his biggest contributors and two unions with important business in Albany?
The Teamsters, as recently as this spring, gathered at the State Capitol to rally against Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed soda tax.
"Not only does the soda tax hurt consumers," union President James P. Hoffa told his members, "it will hurt small businesses and result in further job losses."
Even more problematic for Cuomo is his relationship with the SEIU, which represents thousands of employees at hospitals and nursing homes across the state.
It's hard to imagine a union with more clout in Albany or a union more opposed to cuts in health care, one of the fastest-growing parts of the state budget.
It's also hard to think of a labor organization with closer ties to Cuomo.
Jennifer Cunningham, the union's former political director and current lobbyist, managed Cuomo's 2006 run for attorney general and has served as an informal campaign adviser.
"It's up to him to say, 'OK, I've heard you, now I'm going to do what I think is right'," said Jeffrey M. Stonecash, a political science professor at Syracuse University.
Stonecash thinks the manner in which Cuomo deals with the special interests who helped finance his campaign will go a long way in evaluating his character.
Real estate largess
And it's not just unions.
One industry that Cuomo's critics will be watching is real estate. No other sector of the economy has provided more largess for Cuomo, and the money has come in the form of both corporate and individual contributions.
His donors include some of the biggest names in real estate, people such as New York City developer Jerry I. Speyer and construction giant Daniel R. Tishman. Together, they and their families kicked in more than $187,000 to Cuomo's run for governor.
What do they expect in return?
No one knows for certain, but there are a number of large-scale development projects, including the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, that could require the next governor's blessing.
Horner thinks their motivation may be a lot simpler. He points to Cuomo's tenure as attorney general, where he had responsibility over real estate investments, mortgage fraud and most new housing developments, to suggest that real estate executives simply want to make sure Cuomo remains accessible.
"They already have a relationship," Horner said. "They just want to make sure their phone calls get answered."
Cuomo surprised some of those same real estate executives this month when he announced that the Attorney General's Office would expand its investigation into housing foreclosures.
While his action hits banks the hardest -- he asked them to suspend all foreclosure sales -- real estate experts say that it could hurt an already struggling housing market.
Cuomo's probe focuses on a practice known as "robo-signing," the practice of mortgage lenders filing affidavits without truthfully knowing the facts behind a foreclosure.
"I will not allow New Yorkers to lose their homes due to mortgage goliaths that buck the system," Cuomo said in a statement.
$38,500 from Masiello
Real estate professionals are not the only ones giving money in hopes of gaining access to a Cuomo administration.
So are Albany's lobbyists.
"'Hey, Andrew; hey, Andrew -- I'm over here,'" Stonecash said when asked why lobbyists give to candidates.
Like many candidates, Cuomo has tapped into the state's lobbying community in a big way. A study by the New York Public Interest Research Group in June estimated that the Democrat had received $320,540 from lobbyists.
One of the biggest givers is former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, a longtime Cuomo ally. At last count, Masiello had given Cuomo $38,500, one of the largest contributions by an individual lobbyist.
Masiello said his intent is not to gain access -- he and Cuomo have a relationship that dates back 30 years -- but rather to help an old friend get elected governor.
"I think he's got the right stuff," Masiello said of his fellow Democrat. "He's serious about making a difference. He knows the state's in trouble."
'Payoff,' says Paladino
Cuomo has run into his share of criticism for how he raises money. Some of his biggest contributions have come from lawyers, including some who represent clients investigated by the Attorney General's Office.
For example, he accepted $37,000 from Boies Schiller & Flexer, a New York City firm, even though David Boies, one of the nation's pre-eminent trial attorneys, represented a former insurance and financial services executive under investigation by Cuomo's office.
The Democratic candidate also came under criticism, especially from Paladino, for his relationship with Andrew L. Farkas, one of his biggest benefactors.
Their ties date from the 1990s, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, under Cuomo's leadership, accused one of Farkas' companies of paying kickbacks to building owners.
The company eventually settled the lawsuit by paying the government $7.4 million, and, years later, Farkas hired Cuomo to work for one of his real estate companies.
"Where I come from, this is called a payoff," Paladino said in a campaign ad released last month.
Farkas and his family also became one of Cuomo's biggest contributors, donating more than $57,000 to his campaign in the last two years. One of Farkas' companies also kicked in another $37,500.
Cuomo contends that Paladino's accusations are off-base and says the government's settlement with Farkas' company was negotiated by the Justice Department, not HUD.
"Pay-to-play Paladino is now rewriting history with a mud pen," Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said last month.
What Farkas does reflect is Cuomo's reliance on big-money donors, who often join with family members or fellow employees to increase their contribution.
Nixon Peabody, a Rochester firm with a long history of political activity, gave Cuomo more than $55,000 but did it through a series of more than 70 smaller contributions.
Farkas also symbolizes the Democrat's reliance on large contributions from downstate, many from New York's wealthiest individuals.
"Think of where the money is," said Jamie P. Pimlott, an assistant professor of political science at Niagara University. "People who give to campaigns tend to be wealthier."
A question of influence
Pimlott, who has researched the role of small donors, views Cuomo as the rule, not the exception.
She does think that government could do more to encourage participation by smaller contributors, most notably through lower contribution limits.
"That would force candidates to reach out to more people, to get more people engaged," Pimlott said.
Cuomo, as part of his campaign finance reform agenda, has endorsed lower contribution limits.
"We must address the inappropriate influence that companies and individuals that do business with the state have over our elected representatives," he said in his nine-page platform for reform.
While good-government advocates welcome Cuomo's support, they view it with some skepticism.
"I really hope that, once he's governor, he sticks by that promise," said Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center. "Of course, we've had others before him who made that pledge, and once in office changed their mind."
It's easy to see why.
Under the current system, Cuomo raised $25.6 million in two years, and he did it largely with the help of wealthy individuals and interests giving him large contributions.
And before him, there was the Democratic winner of the last gubernatorial election, Eliot L. Spitzer, who raised $31 million.
And before him, Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, who took in $42 million.
As Horner suggests, "It's easier to say than to do."