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Cuomo lobbying group raised $17.5 million

A lobbying group that promotes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's policies -- and his poll standings -- released its 2011 tax forms Friday, showing it raised $17.5 million from its benefactors.

The IRS filings do not list specific donors to the group but do show a healthy expenditure of funds with out-of-state firms to help it do its New York policy campaigning.

The Committee to Save New York -- whose chairman is a wealthy New York City real estate developer -- has run various ad campaigns paralleling the governor's agenda in Albany since he took office. The group even took out television ads in March urging voters to push lawmakers to back the governor's state budget plan -- after legislative leaders already agreed to the deals.

The group, in its federal tax filing as a 501(c) entity, reported $12.2 million in spending and a balance of $5.3 million.

CSNY, a tax-exempt organization, noted its mission in 2011 was to promote an on-time budget and property tax cap with the help of a media campaign "to educate the public on issues that affect the fiscal and economic recovery of New York State."

While its major ad campaigns ran in New York State, the group turned to out-of-state entities for everything from its tax preparation to advertising work. The group used a Paramus, N.J., tax preparer to complete its IRS forms.

Its biggest expense was $9.7 million for "media/radio" expenses by a Chicago-based firm called ASGK Public Strategies -- whose clients include a number of private entities with business before New York State government.

ASGK was founded by David Axelrod, who is President Obama's campaign strategist and has represented a string of statewide campaigns in New York.

Its clients also have included, according to its website, a bridge in Detroit that has been a source of border traffic competition for the Peace Bridge.

CSNY's leadership for the beginning of January 2011 included three people associated with Tishman Speyer, a Manhattan real estate company, including Robert Speyer, who still serves as CSNY's one-hour-per-week president. The IRS filing said that for all but three days in January, Tishman Speyer "did not have 'control' of the corporation" as defined by IRS rules.

CSNY was Albany's biggest spending lobbying group last year, and the money flow continued during March and April this year -- its most recent reporting period -- when it reported, also on Friday, that it unleashed another $4 million on promoting Cuomo's agenda for the budget and a new pension tier for public employees.

The group also filed an amended report with state lobbying regulators showing expenditures of $250,000 "at the tail end of 2010" when CSNY was being formed -- just after Cuomo's election.

CSNY took credit for promoting a budget plan adopted in March "without new taxes." In fact, the 2012 budget was helped considerably by an income tax hike on wealthy people passed in December and will be worth about $2 billion in tax revenues this year.

While promoting Cuomo's agenda, it has at least indirectly helped keep Cuomo from spending huge amounts of cash from his campaign account to promote himself with New Yorkers. In January, the governor listed a campaign balance of $14.4 million -- making him by far the richest officeholder in Albany.