Group that pushed Cuomo agenda disbanding

Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped by Bridgehampton to witness

Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped by Bridgehampton to witness the 2013 Hampton Classic. (Aug. 25, 2013) (Credit: Johnny Milano)

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ALBANY -- One of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's strongest and most effective allies is disbanding.

The Committee to Save New York, a business-based consortium that raised $17 million to help Cuomo advance his agenda during his crucial first two years in office, is shutting down, spokesman Michael McKeon said Friday.

Formed in late 2010 at the governor's urging, the Committee to Save New York quickly became one of the biggest-spending special interest groups in state politics, providing a counterbalance against labor unions and other critics of Cuomo's budget and policy goals. Members included the Real Estate Board of New York and the Partnership for NYC, a business group.

In 2011 and 2012, the committee spent about $16 million -- far more than any other lobby -- mostly on radio and television ads supporting the governor. During those years, Cuomo succeeded in keeping state spending flat and enacting the new property tax cap.

"They were exceedingly effective," said Barbara Bartoletti of the New York chapter of the League of Women Voters, which monitors lobbying.

The group's ad campaign discouraged critics who traditionally launched their own campaigns to boost state spending from doing so, another watchdog said.

"They certainly turned the conversation during budget season toward the governor's favor," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "The past couple of years, there weren't as many attack ads as usual because the critics knew they couldn't match the spending" of Cuomo's ally.

Later that year, an ethics commission dominated by Cuomo appointees passed new rules to require more disclosure by special interest groups -- but set an effective date that shielded the committee from revealing who funded it during its 2011-12 spending spree.

Since the adoption of new disclosure rules, the group has been, by and large, inactive. It hasn't even reported any 2013 lobbying activity. Bartoletti said she suspected that's because the group didn't want to reveal its donors.

But McKeon said activity declined because the group viewed its efforts as "mission accomplished."

"We supported an agenda that called for controlling spending, controlling taxes, bringing attention to pension reform and neutralizing the special interests that had been dominating Albany in years prior," McKeon said in an interview. "The fact that nobody spent significant money [opposing the governor] proves our success."

The group parted ways with Cuomo on one key issue in 2013: the governor's push to extend the "millionaires' tax," a surcharge on seven-figure earners.

Committee leaders decided it best to shutter operations before next year's statewide elections, McKeon said.

"We said were not going to be involved in electoral politics," he said. "Given that 2014 is a statewide election year, we decided this was the best time to close up shop."

The group will soon file papers with the Department of State to disband. About $2 million has been refunded to donors, McKeon said.

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