In the race for governor, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, appears to be on track to have a political war chest of at least $20 million, due in part to donations from powerful and well-known supporters.
As in past large statewide campaigns, Cuomo's top donors form a Who's Who of leaders in business, law, health care, labor and entertainment who are backing him to take over from Gov. David A. Paterson.
While some donors are directly involved in government, others give to ensure their voices are heard in Albany, said such experts as Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York State Public Interest Research Group.
"They hedge their bets and don't like to bet on losers," said Horner. "The governor is the most powerful figure in New York State. And generally, interest groups are attempting to influence policy - at a minimum, not to get hurt [by government policies] and, at a maximum, to get what they want."
Cuomo declined to be interviewed, but Newsday spoke to three top campaign aides who discounted any influence from political contributions.
"If Andrew Cuomo's record could be summed up in one word it would be 'independence,' " said spokesman Josh Vlasto. "He has never shied away from taking on the tough fights on behalf of all New Yorkers."
In the most recent campaign filing on Jan. 15, Cuomo reported $16 million on hand. GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, a former Republican congressman from Brightwaters, reported $640,000 in cash while Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, another GOP hopeful, had $4 million. GOP candidate Carl Paladino won't file campaign finance reports until July.
As the gubernatorial fundraising pace picks up, Cuomo aides say he could have at least $23 million by Labor Day. Cuomo avoided a costly primary battle when Paterson decided not to run and Levy changed parties to jump into the GOP race.
Campaign reports show that Cuomo's fundraising committee, "Cuomo 2010 Inc.," gathered money at a fast clip last year. In the first six months of 2009, Cuomo picked up $5.1 million in contributions; in the second half of the year, he raised a total of $6.8 million.
A NYPIRG analysis covering January 2007 to January 2010 shows real estate and construction-connected donors gave Cuomo more money than any other sector - more than $579,000, or about 15 percent of his total.
Officials in the firm of megadeveloper Tishman Speyer gave more than $150,000 - with $50,000 coming from Ivan Kaufman of Uniondale-based Arbor Realty Trust, for instance.
Money from real estate and construction interests flows to Cuomo because he's an incumbent attorney general seeking the governor's office, which has wide influence over the industry, said Denise Roth Barber, research director for the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which analyzes campaign finances.
"There are so many state laws and policies that involve real estate," including regulations for subdivision planning and labor and safety issues, Barber said. Cuomo "has the power of incumbency going into an open race, so a lot of people will jump on his bandwagon."
Next in line, in terms of total contributions over the period, were the health and mental hygiene sector, which provided nearly $275,000, and legal/lobbying interests, who gave more than $270,000, the NYPIRG analysis showed.
The industries that gave Andrew Cuomo the most in the second half of 2009:
Real Estate & Construction
Donald Trump: $38,000 since 2009.
Building Trades Employers Association Inc. $19,000 since 2009.
Health & Mental Hygiene
Medical Society of the State of New York PAC, of New Hyde Park: $37,000 since 2009.
Teaching Hospital Education PAC, $10,000 since 2009.
LawPac of New York, Manhattan: $30,900 since 2009.
Boies, Schiller & Flexner, $35,000 since 2009.
Sources: New York Public Interest Group; New York State Board of Election