An investigation by the New York Times claims two dozen appointees to state boards have collectively donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political campaign, in spite of an executive order the governor himself signed prohibiting the practice.
Two prominent real estate figures — and longtime donors to Cuomo — are mentioned in the investigative report. Cuomo’s team, meanwhile, has quietly reinterpreted the executive order, which bars appointees from donating to or soliciting donations for the governor who made the appointment.
Aby Rosen, the principal and co-founder of RFR Holding, was appointed to the arts’ council board in 2011 after his wife and he donated about $85,000 over the course of the preceding five years. Following his appointment, Rosen continued donating to Cuomo’s campaigning efforts paying for private planes on two occasions, according to the Times, and donating $40,000 personally and $50,000 from RFR.
Rosen has been donating to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2002 and, in 2007, The Real Deal reported he and RFR co-founder Michael Fuchs had donated nearly $300,000 to the then-incoming New York State attorney general’s political ambitions.
Scott Rechler, meanwhile, was identified as the Times to be one of Cuomo’s largest donors, having given over $500,000 from companies he’s tied to, including RXR where he is CEO and chairman. Rechler was appointed to the MTA board in June 2017 and months later donated $65,000 to Cuomo — a pattern the Times found to be commonplace among Cuomo’s so-called “donor-appointees.”
Cuomo’s practice of accepting donations from current or future state appointees appears to fly in the face of an executive order Cuomo himself upheld on his first day in office back in 2011 to prevent such ethical blurs, however Cuomo justifies the Times’ finding that he has accepted $2.2 million from 37 appointees since assuming the governorship by claiming a different interpretation of the order.
“The purpose of the order is to prohibit employees and board members who serve at the pleasure of the governor from making political contributions,” said Cuomo’s lawyer Alphonso David to the Times.
“It does not apply to every single person who serves in government, to individuals who volunteer for government, or to individuals who were appointed by the Senate and cannot be removed by the executive,” he continued. “A different reading simply divorces the purpose of the order from its language.” [NYT] — Erin Hudson