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NYPIRG: Cuomo continues tapping into the fattest wallets

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Grassroots fundraising is not Gov. Andrew Cuomo's game. So goes the number crunching conclusions by Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Indeed, 0.77 percent of Cuomo's donations the past four years have been in the $1,000 or less range, while 81 percent have come from deep-pocket donors willing to give him at least $10,000 apiece.

Here is Mahoney's quick take on the numbers after Cuomo and Republican Rob Astorino filed their campaign reports yesterday with the state elections board:

According to an analysis of the July 15, 2014 campaign finance filings reported to the New York State Board of Elections, NYPIRG has found that:

· Governor Cuomo raised more from his nine largest donors - $2,788,142 – than County Executive Astorino raised from his more than 2,174 donors combined.

· Governor Cuomo received aggregate donation totals of $40,000 or more from 317 donors. County Executive Astorino received $40,000 or more from nine donors.

· 81.37% of the money raised by Governor Cuomo this election cycle came from donors who contributed aggregate amounts of $10,000 or more. 44.92% of the money raised by County Executive Astorino falls in this category.

· 0.77% of the money raised by Governor Cuomo has come from donors giving aggregate amounts of less than $1,000. 16.48% of the money raised by County Executive Astorino falls into this category.


Unlike Maziarz, no subpoenas in Gallivan's office

   By Robert J. McCarthy

   When City and State magazine in May reported the now-defunct Moreland Commission's investigation of unitemized campaign expenses, Republican State Sen. George D. Maziarz of Newfane ranked at the top of the list.
   His expenses are now the subject of an investigation launched by a federal grand jury, and the veteran senator announced Sunday he will not run again.
   But second on the list was Sen. Patrick M. Galivan, R-Elma. The magazine said the commission charged with probing public corruption reported $80,000 in his unitemized expenses compared to $140,000 for Maziarz.
   While The Buffalo News has reported that several former Maziarz staffers have been served subpoenas by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan in connection with the probe, Gallivan said neither he nor any of his staffers is facing the same situation.
   He said Tuesday he has not been asked any questions by anyone other than reporters about the expenses.
   "I am confident we are in full compliance," he said.

Video: The Maziarz bombshell and its impact

George Maziarz's surprise decision not to seek re-election to the State Senate has sent shock waves across the political arena. The News' Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about the decision's impact:

Senator Diaz: Hochul's Bronx meeting a "deep, dark secret"

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Bronx Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. issued one of his regular "what you should know" emails earlier this evening. Today's topic: his visit this week with Erie County's Kathy Hochul on what he said was her meeting in a secret location -- even to what he said were invited guests until the last minute -- with Democratic Hispanic leaders in the Bronx.

Here is the unedited take from Diaz, with his own headline to the entry:

Kathy Hochul Comes to the Bronx and it is a Deep, Dark Secret

"You should know that earlier this week, Kathy Hochul, who was chosen by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve as his candidate for Lieutenant Governor, responded to a request by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. to come to the Bronx to meet with Hispanic elected officials.

The urgency that was conveyed to me and to New York's Hispanic elected officials by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. convinced me that this meeting was not to be missed. There were five State Senators who attended the meeting: Senators Adriano Espaillat, Gustavo Rivera, José Marcos Serrano, José Peralta, and me. We were joined by seven Members of the State Assembly: Luis Sepulveda, Marcos Crespo, Carmen Arroyo, José Rivera, Francisco Moya, Robert Rodriguez, and Victor Pichardo. There were also three Members of the New York City Council who attended this meeting: Ritchie Torres, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, and Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

All of these elected officials came from different parts of the City to meet in the Bronx for a 5PM meeting with Kathy Hochul - who, by the way, was so late that at one point, Assemblyman José Rivera stated he would leave if she made us wait much longer.

You should know that the meeting took place with no public announcement, no written invitations, no press releases, no media - even the venue remained completely confidential until the last minute. You should know that the meeting took place and it was a deep, dark secret.

As you know, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. to be the Co-Chair of the Cuomo 2014 Re-Election Campaign efforts. As such, and as a good Democrat, the Bronx Borough President's job is to go throughout New York State and New York City and try to gain support - especially among Hispanics - for Governor Andrew Cuomo and his running mate.

Among these responsibilities is to give Kathy Hochul a chance to cool off some of the flames of anger - and maybe even put out the fire - by holding a forum where she could explain and clarify her position on several serious issues.

I really don't know if Kathy Hochul achieved her goals. For example, when Senator Adriano Espaillat asked for her position on certain outstanding pieces of legislation, such as the Farm Workers Bill, that impacts mostly immigrants, she said she needed to first sit down with Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss it. She refused to offer her opinion on that bill, and on others.

My dear reader, one more time, I was disappointed by the complacency of my Hispanic colleagues who did not demonstrate a united force to express our insistence about pending legislation to achieve our goals for our communities and our constituents. This is exactly why Governor Andrew Cuomo is laughing in our faces and doing what he is doing to our communities and refusing to make the Dream Act a reality.

You should know that this is exactly why I resigned from the Black and Hispanic Caucus, and from the Somos El Futuro: because what my colleagues in government say and do publicly is very different than what they say and do when push comes to shove in private meetings where real decisions are made. Their performance is very disappointing when it comes to making a difference in our community.

You should know that I held all of my questions because I knew that I would not get a response - but I want to know what she thinks about Governor Cuomo's mandate to New Yorkers who are extreme conservatives that we have no place in the State of New York. I wanted to know if Kathy Hochul thinks that I should leave New York because I am pro-life and because I support traditional marriage, and if she thinks the members of my faith community and other faith communities who share my values should all leave New York State. We all know how Governor Andrew Cuomo feels about this, so we really don't need to wait for her to sit down with him to ask about his position on these family matters.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. showed tremendous leadership skills by bringing all of these elected officials to the Bronx to meet at Hostos Community College and gave all of us the opportunity to question Ms. Hochul and gave her the opportunity to clarify her position on immigration, gun control and other matters that are important to our communities.

Even though her visit to the Bronx was a deep, dark secret, I believe that the Bronx Borough President did a wonderful job.

This is Senator Rev. Rubén Díaz, and this is what you should know."


Video: Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington

Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief says things are quiet in the nation's capital, but he plans work on stories about the Buffalo Bills and discussion of a new stadium and another on the wealth of area Congressional delegation.

Teachout says 25,000 signatures collected so far to challenge Cuomo

By Tom Precious


ALBANY – A Fordham law professor seeking to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary says she has obtained 25,100 signatures as of today in her bid to get on the Sept. 9 ballot – nearly double the minimum amount needed.

Zephyr Teachout said an army of volunteers and paid canvassers have been working the state the past month gathering signatures from Democrats at public events and going door-to-door at homes of registered Democrats.

But Teachout, a first-time candidate who says she is running because she believes Cuomo has abandoned some of the core progressive principles of the party, knows the governor or his supporters are likely to mount an effort to try to invalidate enough signatures to block her primary path. Forcing a Democratic primary against Cuomo is far from a slam dunk, her supporters caution.

“We anticipate a challenge," she said in an interview. “His campaign will do what it can to keep us off the ballot, directly or indirectly." 

State elections law requires Teachout, 42, to gather 15,000 signatures from enrolled Democrats with at least 100 apiece coming from half of the state’s congressional districts. In practice, though, candidates – notably challengers to incumbents - generally try to get at least double or triple the minimum signature level to help withstand New York’s long history of employing a cottage industry of election lawyers who gear up this time of year to help incumbents from both major parties keep challengers off ballot lines.

Teachout said her confidence level is “very high" her campaign will submit at least 45,000 signatures to the state Board of Elections by the July 10 deadline, which her campaign believes is a safe comfort level to get on the ballot. But even reaching that level still means the campaign must ensure it is getting high enough numbers from "geographically diverse'' regions of the state to help withstand the looming challenges expected first at a Board of Elections hearing and finally the courts.

Courts and changes to the law over the years have made for less-strict interpretation of the election law, though local election boards still advise office-seekers to, for instance, use staples and not paper clips when filing designating signature sheets.

An election lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity said fraud is the number one reason a signature is determined to be invalid, followed by signers putting down the wrong town they actually reside in. Incomplete witness statements, which are filled out by enrolled party members who gather the signatures from enrolled party members, are another way signatures are often ruled invalid. A mistake can also lead to an entire page of signatures being ruled invalid, even if some of the signatures are legal.

Other common ways signatures can be deemed invalid is if a volunteer dates a witness page, say, on a Tuesday but then collects one more signature dated the following day. Writing "Brooklyn" instead of "Kings'' for the county can lead to problems, as can not properly numbering individual signature pages submitted to the state.

Teachout, who was the online organizing director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, quickly started her Democratic challenge to Cuomo after losing her bid to secure the gubernatorial nomination of the left-leaning Working Families Party at its convention in late May. That has meant trying to build an organization where there was none.

As a result, Teachout is relying, in part, on collecting signatures at various kinds of public gatherings, such as street fairs. Such a route, any election will say, is risky. The preferred route – or as one election lawyer said: “the only way to do it’’ – is obtaining voter registration data and then going door-to-door hitting up registered voters for signatures. Unlike the street rally method, the signature collector has a far better chance of scoring a “valid’’ signature from the door-to-door route.

Teachout said she understands the potential shortcomings, but said the public gathering approach has also been a way for her to spread word about her fledgling campaign. “It may be Byzantine,’’ Teachout said of the state’s election laws pertaining to collecting signatures,  "but it has had the wonderful side effect of creating opportunities for our campaign to get into communities," she said.

Teachout said her volunteer effort in Buffalo has been exceptionally strong. “In Buffalo, you see people who understand the economy is upside down," she said.

Teachout’s campaign is by any measure a long shot, but she has been reaching out to people her campaign believes Cuomo may have alienated after four years in office, from public school teachers to environmentalists who turned out just this week to protest Cuomo over not resolving the natural gas fracking issue.

One aspect of the Teachout campaign Cuomo allies are keeping an eye on is Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor who is running as her lieutenant governor candidate. If Teachout and Wu get on the primary ballot, Wu will run in a separate contest on the Democratic line against Cuomo’s running mate, Erie County’s Kathy Hochul. If Wu emerged victorious, he would become Cuomo’s running mate on the Democratic line in the November general election contest. Also, Cuomo would still be running with Hochul on the Independence and Working Families Party lines, but could not count votes he received on those lines in his overall tally if Wu is his Democratic running mate.


Astorino says $2.2 billion windfall should go to infrastructure work

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino said today the $2.2 billion - at least - windfall New York state is receiving from Monday's settlement with France's largest bank should be dedicated for long-term infrastructure improvements.

Astorino said $500 million of the new money should go to removing the state's canal system from the financial responsibility of the state Thruway Authority, an early 1990s budget-balancing manuever long criticized as a fiscal gimmick by critics.

Here is his release:

New York--July 2 -- Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York State, today challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo to dedicate the $2.2 billion windfall from the BNP Paribas bank settlement to long-term capital projects to shore up New York's decaying rail and highway infrastructure. The money would otherwise go into New York's general fund where it would be used for day-to-day operating expenses.

Mr. Astorino also proposed a long-term fix to the 1992 Mario Cuomo decision to divert Thruway Authority toll revenue to the Canal Corporation, thus stripping New York's roads and bridges of their historic stream of infrastructure funding. The County Executive said that $500 million in BNP Paribas settlement funds could be used to cover Canal Corporation costs over the next seven years, an entity whose costs could then be returned to the state's general fund. Thruway Authority money could then be re-dedicated to highway infrastructure, as it was originally intended to be.

"The BNP Paribas settlement presents New York with a real opportunity to shore up its aging Thruway and MTA infrastructure and to fix a bad policy decision that has robbed New York's roads of badly needed repairs," County Executive Astorino said. "Fixing bridges and roadways may not be a sexy endeavor -- it may not come with ribbon cuttings -- but it is of critical necessity to the economic future of this state and to the safety of New York motorists. This is an enormous amount of money, and we have an opportunity to spend it wisely, rather than to put it into the hands of a government that is already spending New York to death."




Video: McCarthy on the trappings of incumbency

When Governor Cuomo visited Roswell Park Cancer Institute this week, he heaped praise on two state lawmakers who are facing tough political challenges. The News' Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about the trappings of incumbency:

A visual of how Erie County's arts and cultural grants have weathered county politics

A story in Sunday's editions by Colin Dabkowski took a look at how Erie County's arts and cultural grants have weathered the political changes in the county.

Here's a visualization that shows how the county grant money has been spread out to non-profit organizations since 1996 – including the county's "red-green" budget crisis of 2004-2005.

State's highest court upholds towns' hydrofracking bans (Updated)

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- In a case closely watched by localities along with environmental and energy interests, the state’s highest court this morning affirmed the rights of two towns to use local zoning ordinances to ban fracking for natural gas.

The 5-2 decision could have widespread implications for the future of the controversial hydrofracking process that is, by edict of the Cuomo administration, on hold at present across New York.

The Court of Appeals said there is nothing in the state’s oil and gas statute that preempts a locality’s right, through zoning provisions, to ban certain kinds of land uses, such as the controversial fracking process.

The case had been brought by Norse Energies, which had rights to about 22,000 acres of land that it wanted to use for oil and gas exploration and drilling. It challenged the town’s ban saying it exceeded its legal authority. The company has since gone bankrupt, but the case was also merged with one brought by Cooperstown Holstein, a dairy farm in Middlefield in Otsego County that had signed a deal with a private company for gas drilling on its land.

Lower courts had already ruled in the cases that bans on certain industries done through local zoning laws are not preempted by New York’s Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law, which the two plaintiffs argued should prevent localities from enacting a hodge-podge system of fracking bans by having a single state law set out the terms for gas drilling in New York. The law has its roots going back to 1935.

Today’s court decision by the Court of Appeals upholds those lower court rulings. Dryden in 2011 banned any activities related to natural gas exploration or drilling, and Middlefield, like dozens of other localities around New York, amended its zoning rules to ban oil and gas drilling within its town limits.

More than 100 localities across the state have enacted some sort of bans on fracking, and local officials and environmentalists will cheer the court's decision. But for the natural gas industry, and landowners who have sold or leased drilling rights, the decision represents a major financial blow and one that will send a chilling effect to the industry about its prospects for doing business in New York state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, now nearly four years in office, has still not decided whether to life a state moratorium on new fracking operations, a move critics say is costing the state thousands of jobs. Environmentalists, meanwhile, have been protesting Cuomo over the issue at every opportunity, including a deep-pocket fundraiser he has scheduled for tonight in Manhattan. Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham law professor who is trying to challenge Cuomo in a Democratic Party primary, is among those expected at the protest outside Cuomo's fundraiser.

The court today said there is nothing even implied in the state’s oil and gas law that suggests localities can’t use zoning procedures to dictate the kinds of land uses permitted in its borders. The court said it could also find no “legislative intent’’ by the Assembly and Senate seeking to stop localities from taking the steps Dryden and Middlefield took to ban fracking.

The court said the Legislature, if it chose to, could tighten the law to ban localities from using zoning laws to halt hydrofracking, but that it has never done so.

The court also cautioned that it was taking no stand on the issue of hydrofracking; that, the court said, is a matter for the executive and legislative branches to decide.

“At the heart of these cases lies the relationship between the state and its local government subdivisions and their respective exercise of legislative power,’’ the court said.

Brad Gill, executive director of the Hamburg-based Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, said the court’s ruling will have a “chilling effect’’ on companies that have been eyeing fracking in a state that, for six years now over two gubernatorial administrations, has had a de facto ban on the drilling process.

Gill estimated that there are nearly 200 localities in the state with some sort of ban on fracking; he was not immediately sure how many of those are resolutions by local legislative bodies, which are not covered by today’s decision, versus zoning ordinance bans on fracking that the court’s ruling affects.

Gill said the ruling will hurt not only individual energy companies, but local landowners who have been hoping to sell or lease drilling rights. He noted there are still many communities that have long had conventional gas and oil drilling and have not enacted bans on fracking.

“It certainly sends a clear message to our member companies who have had holdings in New York state who several years ago decided to leave New York and invest in Pennsylvania and Ohio,’’ Gill said, adding that the ruling will create a “patch-work’’ of rules that will vary by locality if New York state ever does lift the ban on fracking.

“You’ve got to make business decisions based on certainty. We don’t have that in New York,’’ he said.

But New Yorkers Against Fracking, an environmental group, hailed the decision
for affirming the right of New Yorkers to ban fracking and its toxic effects from their communities.''

The group called on Cuomo to enact a statewide ban on fracking.

"As other states  roll over for a very deep-pocketed fracking industry, communities throughout New York – large and small – have challenged them and won,'' said Katherine Nadeau, policy director at Environmental Advocates, an umbrella organization.

"The fracking industry has spent millions to bully our state, even sending a team of lawyers to strip away the rights of communities who have chosen to ban fracking within their municipal lines. Cities, towns and villages have long retained the right to protect against industries they believe can cause harm, and this was nothing more than a brazen attempt by frackers to exploit the judicial system for their own financial gain,'' she said in a statement this afternoon.


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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |