Good-government groups, pressing lawmakers to back publicly financed political campaigns, issued a report Tuesday saying Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was the biggest beneficiary of the state’s weak campaign-contribution regulations.
The groups also said lawmakers shouldn’t duck the issue of publicly financed campaigns by asking voters to decide in a statewide referendum – one of many ideas being floated as lawmakers move closer to the April 1 state budget deadline. They’re pushing Cuomo to “make good on his word” to deliver on public financing.
The report showed that Cuomo and the New York State Democratic Committee received $11.2 million from big donors in 2013 – far exceeding the amount received by any other candidate or committee. The New York Public Interest Research Group defined “big donors” as the 170 individuals, companies or unions who contributed $50,000 or more in 2013.
"Donations to [Cuomo's] campaign committee and to the housekeeping account of the New York State Democrats – which spent millions of dollars running television advertisements featuring the governor selling New Yorkers on his agenda – accounted for 40 percent of the total money raised from this list of mega-donors," NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney said.
NYPIRG and other watchdog groups are making a late push to compel Cuomo, who supports public financing, and legislative leaders to adopt a system using taxpayers’ money to fund campaigns as a way to limit the influence of big donors.
Lawmakers have discussed offering a constitutional amendment to create a limited public-finance system that would focus on a select race, such as state comptroller. Voters would have to approve it in a statewide referendum.
But Republicans who control the state Senate remain opposed. They said taxpayers’ money would be better spent on education and other programs.
Watchdogs said the constitutional amendment would be a poor substitute for a full-fledged public-financing mechanism. They want Cuomo to use his political muscle.
“We’re trusting the governor to make good on his word,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause.
Cuomo officials didn’t immediately comment.
The NYPIRG report found that the two biggest donors in 2013 were from Long Island.
Along with his wife, hedge fund manager James Simons of Setauket gave $1.1 million to various candidates and committees – with $1 million going to the state Democratic committee.
Companies controlled by Leonard Litwin, who heads a New Hyde Park-based development firm, gave $1 million cumulatively - $375,000 of it to Cuomo.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, in an email, said of NYPIRG's criticism: "No governor has fought harder to reform New York's campaign finance system than Governor Cuomo, who included public campaign financing in his budget and is using the funds that NYPIRG is railing against for commercials urging the public to support it."