ALBANY—There were 22 checks in all, arriving in the last five weeks of a fund-raising period in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo raked in $7 million for his re-election campaign.
They totaled $109,000, sent in chunks of $5,000 or less because New York law caps its corporations annual political contributions at that amount.
They all came from the same place: the Greenwich offices of The Richman Group, a real estate company that regularly interacts with the state of New York and its related entities. According to an analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group, the firm’s various legal components have contributed $264,000 to Cuomo since he took office in 2011, and are his second largest donor.
During a Friday morning radio interview, Cuomo said criticism of his fund-raising was “baloney,” and that “I don’t care if somebody gave me a ton of money or gave me no money — it makes no difference” in terms of how he acts.
The company touts itself as one of the nation’s top 10 property owners, and specializes in affordable projects that often involve state or city subsidies. For example, Richman was a partner in building an $18 million affordable housing development Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, which broke ground in September 2013. Richman is involved in several other affordable housing developments, including a 176-unit low-income housing project and two supportive housing developments for the homeless, located in Brooklyn.
In October, the state authorized $30 million in financing for a Brooklyn low-income housing project. That project’s developer sold low-income housing tax credits earned on the project to a Richman Group affiliate. Richman Group also has a $1.1 million plan to build 56 new affordable housing units in Westchester County, a project which has yet to close on construction financing. In October, Richman hired former New York City Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew Wambua, who was brought on board to grow the firm’s mortgage lending platform.
A Richman Group spokesperson did not return an email seeking comment on its donations.
The perception of pay-to-play in instances like this has long rankled good-government groups, and has led them enlist Cuomo in their push for public campaign finance. Republicans who are loath to set up such a system point to Cuomo’s prodigious fund-raising, leaving the groups walking a narrow line.
NYPIRG found that 242 people have contributed more than $40,000 to Cuomo’s re-election efforts, but that individuals donating less than $1,000 overall—small donors—account for just 0.69% of his cash.
“Cuomo can’t have it both ways. Either he is a real campaign finance reformer or he isn’t. If he is a real reformer, he will move quickly to add small donor matching funds to his budget this session. If he isn’t, he should be honest with all New Yorkers that coddling corporations is far more than important to him than cleaning up Albany. It’s one or the other-it can’t be both,” said Bill Samuels, a former fund-raiser for State Senate Democrats who is also pushing for a public campaign finance system. (He said Richman’s use of 13 different corporations was an “egregious” example that current limits are not adequate.)
Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said, “Governor Cuomo abides by the same rules as everyone else while leading the charge to change them.” In 2013, Cuomo introduced a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill that included a public match (it didn’t pass), and he once again mentioned the need for such a system in his State of the State presentation last week.
On the radio, Cuomo said he was forced to fund-raise aggressively by the specter of a wealthy, self-funding candidate. Donald Trump, who said he would spend up to $200 million of his own money on the race (but has not disclosed any political bank account) is considering a run, he says.
“The real world is, somebody can run for office who has a ton of money, and money in and of itself can almost win a campaign. And if you don’t have personal wealth—which I don’t, anywhere near the magnitudes this business would require—somebody could come in and win the office just because they could outspend you,” Cuomo said on WCNY. “I need to be in a position where I can explain to the people of the state what we’ve done and what we plan to do.”
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