Andrew Cuomo & Campaign Finance Reform

According to recent news reports, Governor Cuomo is considering seeking changes in New York’s campaign finance laws.  In anticipation of the governor’s proposal, which has not yet been publicly revealed, here are a few observations on Andrew Cuomo 2014, Inc.’s most recent campaign finance disclosure statement and the campaign finance reform issues which it frames.


The governor raised over $5.5 million – alot of money.  For context, the governor raised more in the combined two days of February 8th and February 23rd than Tom DiNapoli raised in the entire six months.  In the second half of the 2010 cycle, from July 2008 through the 2010 27 day post general election report, the governor spent $29 million.  He now has $19 million on hand and more than two years of additional fundraising for the 2014 cycle.

            Reform Issues: Will the governor’s proposed changes place any limit or cap on total fundraising, as the New York City and federal systems do under certain circumstances?  What will those limits be and when will they take effect?  If a limit or cap is proposed, how will on-hand money be treated?  If there is a cap, will there be any matching or other state funding?

Big Checks

Of the $1.4 million raised by Cuomo 2014 in the first three months of the reporting period, only $1,500 came from contributions of less than $1,000.  That’s consistent with the Cuomo campaign statement that they have focused on large dollar contributors, but still surprising and a powerful demonstration of the effect of New York’s high contribution limits.

Reform Issues: Will the current contribution limits, roughly $60,000 per contributor/per cycle for statewide candidates, be reduced?  When will any reductions be effective?  Will there be any variations for the other statewide offices?  Will single principal/multiple LLC contributions be limited in any way?

July 13th and Strict Reporting Compliance

Cuomo 2014 lists over $300,000 in contributions, and a single contribution refund, on July 13th.  Including those transactions in this report is plainly contrary to the Election Law, which sets out the time requirements in Section 14-108(2), stating that “[e]ach  statement  shall  cover  the  period up to and including the fourth day next preceding the day  specified  for  the  filing  thereof”.  For this filing, the BOE states that the due date was July 16th and the cut-off date was July 12th.  Under the Election Law, contributions received by a campaign after July 12th should therefor be reported in the next filing.  I looked at the formal opinions of the BOE and did not see any that were relevant, so there does not appear to be any legal authority for violating this statute.  Cuomo 2014 appears to similarly violate this statute in many of its filings.

Reform Issues: There does not appear to be any meaningful direct harm from these violations, but they point toward an important issue.  The NYS Board of Elections does not have sufficient money or staff to affirmatively enforce many detailed elements of the campaign finance law.   Will any campaign finance law changes improve the Board of Elections’ funding and enforcement capacity?  Should campaign finance enforcement be moved to a separate, sole-purpose agency or board?  Will any changes be made to the penalty provisions of the campaign finance law to provide for more appropriate responses to minor violations?


One contribution which is a real head-scratcher is the $10,000 contribution from Citizens for Gulotta (received on February 23rd.)  On the substance, it’s a head-scratcher because Tom Gulotta left office as the Nassau County Executive at the end of 2001 with the County a fiscal disaster.  His two terms embodied the worst fiscal management practices and stand in stark contrast to the governor’s fiscal policies and actions.

As a compliance matter, it’s also a head-scratcher because Citizens for Gulotta does not list a contribution to Cuomo 2014 in this reporting period.  In it’s January 2012 filing Citizens for Gulotta lists a $10,000 contribution to Cuomo 2014, dated December 29, 2011, with the same check number as the Cuomo 2014 receipt.  It’s an odd time gap.  (Note that since both the contributor and recipient are political committees which file disclosure statements, there should be a time gap – the oddity is the length of that gap.  Just to make it clear, if Committee A prepares, signs and mails a check on Monday and Committee B receives that check on Thursday, Committee A should report an expenditure dated Monday and Committee B should report a contribution dated Thursday.  If the cutoff date was Wednesday (and both Committees are complying with Election Law 14-108(2)), it would be legally correct for the two Committees to report the same money in different periods.)  It’s unclear where the check was from December 29, 2011 to February 23, 2012.

Reform Issues: Citizens for Gulotta illustrates an oft-noted weakness in New York’s Election Law.  More than 10 years after it’s candidate left office, Citizens for Gulotta doles out tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars to politicians and charities every year, with $1 million remaining on hand.  Will the governor’s proposal address this topic?  If so, how would “excess” funds be disposed of?


Howard Zemsky, a prominent Buffalo area businessman, was nominated in March by Governor Cuomo to chair the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and his state senate confirmation to that position was announced by the governor’s office on May 15th.  Howard Zemsky contributed $15,000 to Cuomo 2014 on March 19th, but the campaign refunded his contribution on May 8th.  Then, on May 16th a Leslie Zemsky contributed $40,000 to Cuomo 2014.   (Howard and Leslie’s contributions list the same address and I’m guessing that they are husband/wife).  It would interesting to know if the return of Howard’s contribution was due to his appointment by the governor and, if so, what the campaign’s policy is concerning contributions from appointees and their spouses.

Reform Issues:  Will the campaign finance law be changed to prohibit or limit contributors based on their professional activities or affiliations?  For example, will any particularized statutory limits be placed on state employees?  Businesses, and their employees and principals, which hold or seek state contracts or receive state economic development funding?  Lobbyists?  Unpaid appointees?

Times Change

In 2009 and 2010 Attorney General Cuomo was locked in a bitter dispute with Bank of America, culminating in Attorney General Cuomo filing fraud charges against the Bank of America and some of its senior executives.  On July 5, 2012, Bank of America NY PAC contributed $15,000 to Cuomo 2014.  (This PAC also gave $15,000 to Cuomo 2014 in February 2011.)

Reform Issue: Does time really heal all wounds?

~ John Kenny