New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raked in $2.2 million dollars to his campaign coffers over the last six months even as he faced sexual harassment allegations, multiple state and federal probes into his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, criticism over his lucrative book deal, and concerns that he favored friends and family for early COVID-19 testing.
The newly accrued donations leave Cuomo with a campaign war chest of more than $18 million dollars, leaving him in strong standing to mount a fourth-term re-election bid next year. He also dipped into those funds to pay his criminal-defense attorney defending him on multiple fronts, according to state campaign finance records released on Thursday.
From January to June of this year, 117 donors gave sums of $10,000 or more, the records show, with many of the biggest donors coming from the New York City real estate industry. They include Michael Fuchs, billionaire Richard LeFrak, Gristedes chain owner John A. Catsimatidis, Hudson yards developer Stephen M. Ross, and Lisa Blau, the wife of Related Companies CEO Jeff Blau, who earlier this year funded an effort to persuade Republicans to register as Democrats in order to swing the party more to the right. Each of them gave more than $20,000 towards Cuomo’s re-election campaign. None have yet returned requests for comment.
The amount Cuomo raised in the last six months is less than the $3.9 million he made six months prior when he was riding a pandemic high in approval ratings, won an Emmy award, and was making the rounds to promote his memoir. Both are less than his pre-pandemic fundraising levels: He took in $4.4 million in new donations in the second half of 2019, records show.
The campaign finance records release came two days before Cuomo is expected to speak to investigators in the state attorney general probe into allegations that he sexually harassed multiple junior staffers, according to a report in The New York Times. The Saturday interview could be a sign the probe is winding down, although Attorney General Letitia James’ office has not publicly shared a timeline and would not comment.
Campaign records show Cuomo used $284,872 in campaign funds to pay the criminal defense law firm hired to handle the allegations and various investigations underway. At a June 2nd press conference, when asked if he was using campaign funds to cover his legal fees, he told reporters “not at this time.”
Asked if he’s using any campaign money or personal money to foot any of his legal expenses, @NYGovCuomo says, “Not at this time.”
Says lawyers brought in are representing the Executive Chamber, which means they’ll be paid by taxpayers.
— Luis Ferré-Sadurní (@luisferre) June 2, 2021
In fact, that very same day, the campaign paid attorney Rita Glavin’s law firm $173,098, records show. The campaign had also paid a previous sum of $111,774 a month earlier. A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment, nor did Glavin.
Government ethicists like John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said it’s not illegal to use campaign funds to pay off legal fees, but it’s a slippery ethical slope if elected officials turn to deep-pocketed donors to help them with legal woes.
“Campaign funds are supposed to be for campaigns not for criminal defense,” he said, adding that his group takes the stance that taxpayers should pay legal fees up until the person leaves elected office, in order to assure that if the investigations happen to be politically motivated, the elected official has protection. “We want to see due process for the governor and all people, but not at the expense of an invitation and pay to play.”
Cuomo has claimed the multiple allegations and probes against him are politically motivated. He reiterated that line of a defense in a statement to the New York Times Thursday, through his senior advisor Richard Azzopardi who said James had “transparent political motivation.”
Cuomo, whose office is not subject to term limits, has been gearing up for a re-election campaign, with a recent $10,000-ticket fundraiser which reportedly took in more than a million dollars in late June. Many of his recent press conferences have seemed more like campaign rallies, where Cuomo appears surrounded by supporters who praise his leadership qualities. At many of those events, reporters were barred from entry or not allowed to ask questions.
There has been chatter about AG James running a primary challenge, a prospect she would not comment on when asked at a press event this week. James ended July with $1.6 million in her campaign coffers, a sliver of Cuomo’s cash on hand.
Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin is mounting a challenge for the general election. The Republican beat Cuomo in this most recent fundraising cycle, campaign records show, ending July with $3.1 million in the bank.