Hochul gets ‘independent’ air cover in budget clash
Less than two weeks before the deadline for New York State lawmakers to approve an annual fiscal plan, a crop of TV spots, videos, digital ads and mailings have popped up in a bid to boost Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget priorities.
This kind of push has been seen before in Albany. Ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his first term had public-relations support for his executive proposals from an entity called the Committee to Save New York. The legal structure of these groups requires that they operate independently of any political candidate or campaign, but political professionals acknowledge that this line in practice is always a little thin.
This time out, an organization called American Opportunity is championing the governor’s agenda, and it comes from an interesting place. As a nonprofit designated under tax laws as a 501(c)(4) organization, the entity files as its address 1225 Eye St. NW, Suite 1100 in Washington, D.C.
That happens to be the same address as the Democratic Governors Association, according to filings viewed Monday by The Point. The DGA describes itself on its website as “an independent voluntary political organization organized to support Democratic governors and candidates across the nation.” The Republican Governors Association has a parallel mission.
An American Opportunity web page touts Hochul as “fighting for New York” and says straightaway that “she’s prioritizing public safety.”
The ads portray her as supporting police measures against violent crime but don’t address a current fault line: In her budget, she’s proposing new changes in the state’s bail laws aimed at allowing judges more choice in whether to remand or release defendants. Both the State Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities are resistant.
In last November’s elections, Republicans scored big points against her — and against suburban legislators — on crime. Spikes in serious offenses nationally are also an electoral problem for other DGA members. Hochul's housing development plan is also facing high hurdles, specifically from Long Island. Some of the American Opportunity material glances at that issue, saying for example: “She’s working to expand affordable housing by building 800,000 new units across our state.”
The group is registered with the New York State Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. A Feb. 27 letter filed with the office by its treasurer Stephen Hill says American Opportunity will be “lobbying on its own behalf” and expects to exceed $5,000 in reportable lobbying expenses.
While there seem to be no issues with its propriety, several insiders say while declining to be identified that they aren’t convinced this public-relations effort will help Hochul in the intensive bargaining to come with legislative leaders.
“I don’t think it will apply the pressure they hope,” one Democratic operative with roots on Long Island told The Point. From Albany, a party player called the push “ineffectual, and a waste of resources for whoever is paying.” But a third seasoned Democrat said more optimistically: “It will help — if it improves her favorability ratings and that results in more political leverage.”
The American Opportunity website urges, “Tell Gov. Hochul to keep up the work she’s doing to make New York a safer, more affordable home for our families.” Clicking that sends the reader to part of the New York State website, which accepts messages for the governor from members of the public.
The group’s July report is expected to disclose its contributions, as required by state law.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison
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