Loophole expands for appointees giving Cuomo donations

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Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit, CC2.0

The Cuomo donations scandal took another turn yesterday as the Governor’s administration “clarified” their rationale for ignoring the executive order preventing appointed officials from donating to his campaign.

Cuomo donations loophole expanded further

Speaking to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Andrew Cuomo put forward a new interpretation of the Governor’s executive order banning campaign contributions from appointees.

Instead of merely saying the rule should not apply to appointees who are also confirmed by the State Senate (a distinction that does not appear in the text of Cuomo’s executive order) an administration spokesman said appointees are also exempt if they are required to file a financial disclosure form with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (again, not mentioned or alluded to in the order itself).

This new interpretation conveniently exempts almost all most state board appointees from the ban. Despite there being 550 state boards with roughly 2,000 appointees sitting on them, the Governor’s office was only able to name three boards with appointees they now consider to be covered by the ban: the Albany Convention Center Authority, the Capital Program Review Board at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Occupational Safety and Health Hazard Abatement Board.

Besides the $890,000 in Cuomo donations made directly by supporters since their appointments, a further $1.3 million has been donated by family members of appointees or companies under their control, making a total of roughly $2.2 million in appointee-connected cash raked in by the Governor so far.

Cuomo pushes to regulate social media spending

Cuomo donations from appointees make up a substantial chunk of the massive $5.9 million war-chest recently declared by the Governor’s campaign. This total dwarfs that of all other declared candidates. Libertarian hopeful Larry Sharpe came in second in the last reporting period with $102,596. The best Republican showing was a paltry $16,026 by Brian Kolb (who has since dropped out).

Considering his vast monetary advantage, social media might offer the best opportunity for any rival looking for an advantage over Cuomo. Clever social media tactics can offer candidates with popular appeal a way to gain traction among voters much more cheaply than traditional campaign advertising.

Perhaps it is unsurprising then that Cuomo is backing new regulations to control political spending on social media.

On Wednesday, Cuomo spoke on a conference call with Assembly speaker Carl Heastie and a panel of legal and good government experts. According to the Albany Times Union he said, “You have the explosion of the power of social media which has transformed politics in a way no other transformation has.”

Not content with a statement that was partly axiomatic, partly nonsensical, he continued:

“You have a total lack of regulation of the social media space. We’re eight months from an election. You have to assume that it’s going to happen again.”

While Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election has been conclusively demonstrated, it is still far from certain that the Russian meddling had any appreciable effect on the outcome. Even so, it is an enormous leap to assume the Kremlin would be interested in meddling in a one-sided gubernatorial election like the one Cuomo will contest in eight months.

Nevertheless, following the well-worn New York maxim “regulate early, regulate often,” the Assembly passed a bill for the Democracy Protection Act later that same day. The bill expands the state’s definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements, requires digital companies to keep on file a list of political ads, and requires digital companies to verify that the ads aren’t being purchased by foreign governments.

So far there is no companion bill in the New York Senate.

Jury out on Cuomo’s “brother” Joseph Percoco

Despite the massive Cuomo donations advantage, the Governor could be right to fear a popular revolt on his social media flank. Federal jurors in the Joseph Percoco bribery case began their first full day of deliberation on Friday, and the result could prove a key source of social media fodder for Cuomo critics.

Although the Governor faces no charges of wrongdoing himself, his longtime aide and confident Joseph Percoco is charged with accepting $300,000 in bribes from three businessmen who needed help from the state.

At the 2015 funeral of his father, former governor Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo likened Percoco to a brother saying he was “my father’s third son who sometimes I think he loved the most.” Percoco also served as Cuomo’s re-election campaign manager in 2014.

So far the jury have sent out a single note, asking for a definition about the law. They finished their deliberations for the weekend on Friday afternoon, and are expected to resume on Monday.

If a guilty verdict is returned, it could have an enormous impact on November’s election.

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