$903,000 from far and wide has flowed to Hochul campaign - The Buffalo News
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$903,000 from far and wide has flowed to Hochul campaign

ALBANY – Kathy Hochul is running for a job that possesses only a couple of legal requirements, with only a few, mostly ceremonial, duties in state government.

But that has not stopped the money flowing to her campaign for lieutenant governor from the likes of wealthy real estate interests, a Ukraine-born billionaire businessman and cops who patrol bridges and airports in New York City, according to recent campaign filings with the state Board of Elections.

Since her father, John P. Courtney of Florida, began the donor stream with a $19,700 gift to his daughter July 17, Hochul has raised nearly an average of $19,000 a day.

That is a total of $903,000, and nearly $600,000 has come from three dozen donors who have contributed $10,000 apiece or more to the Erie County resident.

This for a race that Democrats had insisted would be a cakewalk in Hochul’s bid to become Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s running mate on Line A – the Democratic Party’s row – on the November ballot.

With once little-known Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, hoping to block her efforts with an appeal to the liberal base of the Democratic Party, Hochul has turned to wealthy Western New York business executives. Several have been financially by her side since her days as Erie County clerk.

But she also has benefited, as she did during her brief congressional tenure, on large donations from private-sector unions. And in recent weeks, she has turned to real estate and other New York City interests with long political ties to Cuomo.

Wu, meanwhile, has raised one-tenth what Hochul has brought in. He has just $23,000 on hand, compared with $864,000 that Hochul said she has left to spend in the period from Aug. 25 until the primary election Tuesday.

Despite Hochul’s frenetic fundraising pace, the Cuomo campaign insists that it is not worried about Wu upsetting Hochul.

“He’s not going to win the primary, in my opinion,”’ Cuomo said this week when asked if he would campaign with Wu if Hochul lost the Democratic primary.

How did Hochul become so cash flush so quickly?

It started, according to an analysis of her campaign filings, at home.

In her first disclosure report a month ago, Hochul reported raising $247,000 from individuals; $153,000 of that came from donors who reside west of Rochester. Maxing out at the $19,700 primary donation level in that first round were Robert G. Wilmers, her boss at M&T Bank; Williamsville lawyer Steven J. Weiss; and Leslie H. Zemsky, an executive at Larkin Development Group and wife of Cuomo political and policy ally Howard A. Zemsky.

Beyond individual donors, Hochul tapped into several Western New York corporate interests that have some sort of business before the state government, including Uniland Development Corp. and Maid of the Mist Corp.

Cuomo connections

Even a number of out-of-state donors that were really linked to Western New York have contributed to Hochul.

Delaware North Cos., for instance, had two of its greyhound racing and gambling concerns, the Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room in Florida and Southland Gaming & Racing in Arkansas, sent $5,000 apiece to Hochul.

A Dallas contracting firm donated to her, but it is a subsidiary of Buffalo’s Norstar USA.

As with her congressional run in 2012, which she lost to now-Rep. Chris Collins, Hochul has turned heavily to union interests for money. She received $19,700 apiece from the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, the 1199 SEIU health care union, steelworkers and building trades, Port Authority PBA, New York City Mason Tenders and the New York City-based hotel workers union, among others. The New York Pipe Trades union gave her $25,000, but Hochul returned $5,300 to keep its financial help within legal limits.

Corporate interests with business in Albany have opened their wallets, including at least $15,000 in donations apiece from political action committees representing everyone from Pepsi bottlers to dentists.

Longtime Cuomo family insiders have also pumped money to Hochul, including Todd R. Howe, a Washington, D.C., government affairs consultant and former top adviser to Cuomo during his federal housing department days, and Tonio Burgos, a registered lobbyist in Albany who was a longtime adviser to former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the governor’s father.

Heavy-hitting Cuomo donors also show up in the money trail to Hochul, including a maximum contribution by Access Industries Holdings, which is owned by Ukraine-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, whose corporate interests stretch from chemicals to real estate to Warner Music.

The $903,000 Hochul has raised is more than 20 times what Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, whom Hochul is looking to replace, brought in during his entire run for lieutenant governor in 2010 as Cuomo’s running mate. Duffy did not face a Democratic primary opponent that year.

The fundraising totals for Hochul are clearly meant to illustrate support by traditional Democratic Party groups and individuals with long histories of bankrolling politicians. It is also meant to overwhelm the race with a mountain of campaign cash that can buy ads, hire consultants to get out votes and plan carefully conceived geographic and demographic outreach efforts.

“We are proud of the overwhelming support for Democrat Kathy Hochul’s campaign to build on the progress New York has made over the last four years. There’s no doubt that Kathy will have the broadest coalition of support in this race and the resources necessary to compete and win statewide,” said James Freedland, a spokesman for the Cuomo and Hochul campaign.

Technically, Cuomo and Hochul are not running on the same line in the primary, meaning that it is up to Hochul to pay for items such as travel and mailings, directly aimed at helping her campaign against Wu. Money raised for the primary can’t be spent on the general election.

In the last couple of months, Hochul has held fundraisers in Buffalo, Rochester and Albany. She has spent just $36,200, according to her most recent filing made public Friday by the state Board of Elections, much of it on consultants, including those whose business it is to help politicians raise funds.

Wu’s war chest far smaller

Much of the $83,000 donated to Wu, who has never run for office before, has come from executives or firms with some sort of Internet-related business interests.

Wu, a former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk, coined the term “net neutrality” and has written extensively on Internet and telecommunications issues. He lent his campaign $10,000.

There have been no independent polls conducted by the usual group of college polling institutes, so it is uncertain where Hochul and Wu stand with registered Democrats who will go to the polls Tuesday.

Wu, trailing badly in the money race with Hochul, sought to highlight his recent endorsement by the New York Times over the former congresswoman.

“Since the Times endorsement, we’ve been raising at roughly the same pace with Hochul, but our donor base is much broader, and we don’t depend on PACs or the LLC loophole,” Wu said of political action committees and a politician-friendly loophole in the state election law that allows someone to create many limited liability corporations to get around the $5,000 per corporation limit.

Hochul’s geographic donation trend is much like her public appearance schedule: heavily dominated by Western New York and New York City contributions, with scattered money flowing from other locations.

Hochul is no stranger to raising large sums. In 2011 and 2012 for her House run against Collins, she raised $4.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political donations.

WNY contributors

There is some crossover between her congressional and lieutenant governor campaign fundraising, including large donations in her House race from executives tied to Delaware North, lawyers and unions, which in 2011 and 2012 included big donations from labor groups representing autoworkers, teachers, carpenters, laborers, teamsters and steelworkers.

Notably missing from the current donor list is the state’s big teachers union, which is sitting out the Democratic gubernatorial and lieutenant governor’s primary, although the Buffalo Teachers Federation is actively working to help gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, and her running mate, Wu.

Hochul also turned to Nicole Hushla, a Rochester consultant , who has been paid $9,000 so far to help her raise money, along with about $5,000 so far to Leah Gonzalez, a political consultant with ties to New York City labor interests.

Among donors to Hochul for the primary are developers such as Paul and Louis Ciminelli and Carl J. Montante, and former officeholders-turned-lobbyists Paul A. Tokasz and Anthony M. Masiello. She has received several $1,000 donations from former colleagues in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Cuomo, who is not as free sharing his campaign money to help other politicians, donated $19,700 to Hochul.

Other donors to Hochul have included John Zaccaro, a New York City real estate developer and the widower of Geraldine Ferraro; $5,000 from the Seneca Nation of Indians, and $9,605 from John Petry, a hedge fund executive, charter school advocate and heavy Cuomo contributor. Duffy, the outgoing lieutenant governor, wrote a $10,000 check from his campaign account to Hochul.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

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