A one-time Democratic fundraiser said Gov. Andrew Cuomo should “lead by example” when it comes to reshaping the state’s oft-criticized campaign finance laws, calling on him to reject corporate donations from now through 2014.
Bill Samuels — well-known among political circles as the head of reform group New Roosevelt Initiative and for his former stints as the Senate Democrats’ fundraiser, as well as his long-shot bid for lieutenant governor in 2010 — said Cuomo’s calls for reforming the campaign finance system fall flat when the first-term governor has mastered it in its current form.
A “first step,” Samuels said, should include Cuomo turning away corporate donations. Cuomo’s most recent filing for his 2014 re-election campaign showed a balance of more than $19 million in his coffers. He’s taken about $1.4 million in corporate donations since he was elected, according to Samuels’ review of Cuomo’s filings. (Corporate donations are capped at $5,000 per corporation.)
“The problem is this: You have someone who is trying to lead — that we want to lead — on getting money out of politics in Albany … and at the same time he’s cynically taking major money from corporations,” said Samuels, himself the managing director of the Carlyle Capital Group.
“You cannot lead with verbal statements and then go out and do actions that at best are an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Specifically, Samuels pointed to a $50,000 donation from Ultimate Fighting Productions. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has led an aggressive push to legalize mixed-martial arts bouts in the state that thus far has been unsuccessful.
Cuomo has said recently that he will make reforming the state’s campaign finance laws a major initiative moving forward, and in the past has advocated for a public financing system similar to New York City’s.
Samuels said he believes it’s a “50/50 chance” that Cuomo will follow through.
“Many of us want leadership that really changes the culture in Albany and doesn’t, in fact, lead to the public relaxing in what really needs to be done,” Samuels said. Things have not really changed.”