Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
In the 15 months before Wisconsin's public-employee war erupted, New York billionaire David Koch and his wife, Julia, sent Andrew M. Cuomo's campaign six contributions totaling $87,000. The donations were noted last fall mainly by political junkies and celebrity-watchers who followed the Democratic attorney general's blizzard of fundraising for governor.
Now a minor-party leader who backed Cuomo last fall urges him to return the funds.
Recorded between November 2009 and last September, the contributions carry more symbolism today than when they were made. Brothers David and Charles Koch -- and their Midwest-based company Koch Industries -- are drawing renewed national attention as political players. They've been financiers of tea-party organizations, right-wing foundations and Republican candidacies. Most recently, the company's PAC has supported Wisconsin's new GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker's move to end collective bargaining for public employees has stirred a weeks-long national sensation. One twist came when a blogger imitating David Koch got a call through to Walker to "encourage" his initiative. It turned into a cordial 20-minute conversation. On the audiotape, which went viral, real-life Walker assures fake Koch: "We won't budge."
Asked yesterday about the Cuomo contributions, Dan Cantor, executive director of the labor-union-backed state Working Families Party, said: "David Koch stands for a world in which the needs of the super-rich trump all other needs. He wants to destroy the middle class. The governor should return the money."
Cantor has been drumming up local support for the public employee unions in Wisconsin.
But most still see Albany as further away from Madison, Wis., than even the 782-mile physical distance suggests.
Conservative observers of the new administration in Albany have said in critical public statements that Cuomo hasn't shown nearly the same resolve to cut labor unions down to size. Meanwhile, dozens of Democrats, in the Assembly, have signed a letter protesting cuts in state school aid and calling for an extension of the temporary income tax surcharge on wealthier residents.
Said one seasoned New York Democrat: "Many wealthy people, I guess Koch included, knew Cuomo was going to win the election. And he is cutting the budget right and left . . . Barring public employee unions making significant concessions, layoffs will go deeper. Though admittedly, he's not proposing destroying collective bargaining rights. It is a conservative budget -- no taxes and no borrowing means all cuts."
According to published accounts, David Koch, a big supporter of the arts, doesn't quite match the profile of his late father Fred Koch, who started the company and was a founding member of the John Birch Society. He was dubious about the Iraq War, and supports stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, it has been reported. That said, the Park Avenue resident is closely identified with anti-tax, anti-regulatory stances shared by his brother Charles.
A spokeswoman for David Koch did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Michael Caputo, who managed Carl Paladino's Republican campaign, recalled having consulted for a Koch-backed foundation. "David's an honorable man, who walks the walk," Caputo said. "He likely gave to Cuomo out of friendship and he's probably comfortable with it ideologically right now." There was no immediate comment from Cuomo's office.