Cuomo skirts the lobby laws to take millions from special interests

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Defense Offered for Cuomo on Ties to Lobbying Group, NY Times


“You know, the governor is trying to get some private money to tell a message — to give a message,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “I’m totally sympathetic in how difficult it is to get your message out.”

Mr. Cuomo, through his aides, appeared to acknowledge a stronger relationship with the group, the Committee to Save New York, than he has in the past.

“For an issue advocacy and lobbying organization such as C.S.N.Y. — a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation and not a PAC or ‘political committee’ — such coordination with elected officials is wholly proper, common, and necessary,” Richard Bamberger, Mr. Cuomo’s communications director, and Jeremy Creelan, the governor’s special counsel, wrote in a letter to The New York Times late Monday.

The Times reported on Tuesday that gambling and real estate interests had given millions of dollars to the Committee to Save New York, which was founded at Mr. Cuomo’s urging shortly before he took office. The committee, which has run television advertisements promoting Mr. Cuomo’s agenda and his accomplishments, has emerged as a powerful force in Albany, reflecting the growing influence of outside spending groups in national, state and even city politics.

Last year, Mr. Cuomo and his aides helped organize a coalition to support his push to legalize same-sex marriage. In New York City, allies of Mr. Bloomberg have organized such groups to lobby for the mayor’s proposals on congestion pricingcharter schools and other issues, often in opposition to the municipal labor unions. And several leading business executives have recently discussed organizing “super PACs” to aid Republican or independent candidates for mayor in next year’s city elections.

In the 2,200-word letter, Mr. Cuomo’s aides praised the Committee to Save New York for its support of the governor’s agenda, including his proposals to reduce state spending, cap local property taxes and cut public employees’ pension benefits. They described the committee’s efforts as a crucial counterbalance to the labor unions that had opposed efforts by several governors to rein in state spending. Mr. Cuomo’s aides called the committee “a welcome addition to the debate and dialogue in Albany too long manipulated and controlled by a small handful of multimillion-dollar vested interests.”

But liberal and labor-backed groups, who have opposed Mr. Cuomo unsuccessfully on school spending and other issues, assailed his ties to the committee and its donors.

“We are seeing a governor that seems to have put his editorial byline, his State of the State, and even the state’s Constitution, up for auction,” said Agnes Rivera of Community Voices Heard, a nonprofit group partly financed by unions that advocates for low-income New Yorkers.

The group, along with an affiliated organization, Vocal-N.Y., filed a complaint with the state ethics commission in March arguing that the Committee to Save New York should register Mr. Cuomo as its lobbying client.

Unlike so-called super PACs, which are active chiefly during campaigns, lobbying groups like the Committee to Save New York are not required to disclose their donors. That may change: the ethics commission is expected to issue new regulations this year that would require more disclosure for such groups.

While it is not illegal for elected officials to work with such advocacy groups on policy issues, federal law and New York state law place restrictions on candidates’ coordination with outside groups when it comes to election spending. Some ethics experts said that coordination between elected officials and outside groups raised questions about influence, and highlighted the gray area between lobbying for issues and running for office.

“Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is as important as actual impropriety,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonpartisan group. “And the appearance here, the timing, is very unfortunate. It raises all kinds of questions about whether there was some sort of influence.”