ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spent Tuesday traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles, raising money for his gubernatorial campaign fund and, presumably, stirring the waters a bit more about a possible 2020 White House run.
How much Cuomo raised was not revealed by his campaign. Cuomo left sometime Monday evening and was due back Tuesday night.
Cuomo was expected to tap deep into the Hollywood film industry with a scheduled gathering of top entertainment executives Tuesday evening at the Beverly Hills home of Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
The takeaway in some media accounts was about how Cuomo was trying to boost his 2020 presidential ambitions. But the Los Angeles Times, anonymously quoting one of the Los Angeles fundraiser’s host committee, said part of the motive for donors attending was to help the industry preserve its best-in-the-nation tax breaks it enjoys in New York State.
With Cuomo’s muscle, those tax breaks -- $420 million a year for qualified film productions in New York – were extended earlier this spring through 2022.
Several people hosting or expected to attend one of the two events have been big Cuomo donors in the past. Dreamworks cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was among those the Los Angeles newspaper said was attending the Tuesday evening fundraiser, donated $60,000 to Cuomo in 2014 and 2015, according to a search of campaign records in New York.
Jim Gianopulos, chairman of Paramount Pictures, donated $5,000 in 2009 for Cuomo’s first run for governor.
With donors being asked to give Cuomo up to $50,000 apiece, the invite list to a morning fundraiser in San Francisco included an array of interests, including San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer and executives with hedge funds who have been among Cuomo’s most loyal donors over the years.
Among the hosts in San Francisco was New Yorkers Barry and Lizanne Rosenstein. He is the billionaire founder of Jana Partners hedge fund and, together with his wife, they already donated $185,000 to Cuomo in the past three years.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Chris Larsen and Munjal Shah were on the invitation list, as was Ben Lawsky, who is Cuomo’s former financial services department head and a longtime government and political adviser.
Bill Mulrow, Cuomo’s former top government staffer and who is serving as chairman of Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign, did not respond to an email seeking information about how much the California fundraisers were expected to collect and how Cuomo traveled between New York and the two West Coast cities. Cuomo often takes private jets to fundraisers, which he then counts as “in-kind” donations from the owners of the aircraft.
Campaign officials later Tuesday evening said Cuomo flew via commercial jets and that his campaign is paying for the travel costs.
Republicans criticized the money raising trips. On Twitter, Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican mulling a run for governor next year, wrote: “Cuomo is raising $$$ in San Francisco to run for President while NY faces the biggest shortfall in 7 years — $4.4 billion and growing. Priorities???”
The state Republican Party noted the connections between the film industry and Cuomo’s strong support of the $420 million annual tax break program for the companies.
“It’s a form of money laundering that is ethically and politically corrupt, all so he can try to run for president,’’ the GOP said Tuesday.
Cuomo campaign officials noted that Tuesday was the sixth time that Cuomo, dating back to his days as state attorney general, has traveled to California for fundraisers.
"The Governor has broad national support for what he's done in New York and appreciates our shared efforts with California to combat disastrous tax and climate policy coming out of Washington. These attempts by the New York GOP to distract from last week's (election day) defeats in every corner of the state are silly and frankly ineffective,'' Mulrow, the Cuomo campaign chairman, said in a statement Tuesday.
Who gave and how much to Cuomo on Tuesday won't be revealed until he files his next campaign finance report with the state elections board in mid-January. In July, he reported having $25.7 million in his campaign account.