Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who led the effort to legalize gay marriage in New York, received $60,000 in campaign money from one of the state's leading gay rights groups, according to campaign finance records filed Friday.
The Empire State Pride Agenda's check to the Democrat was one of the biggest among Cuomo's $5.5 million in contributions since January. It's a big haul for any governor and comes as Cuomo has racked up big political wins in his first six months and this week's Siena College poll showed his job performance rating rose to 58 percent among New York voters.
Legislators key to passage of the gay marriage law last month also saw big contributions from gay marriage supporters, according to the state Board of Elections filings.
"The fervid campaign in support of gay marriage filled both the halls of the state Capitol and legislators' wallets," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who analyzes campaign financing and spending.
He said, however, that Cuomo's biggest benefactors remain the traditional lobbying powers: businesses supporting his initiative to cap the growth of property taxes; landlords, developers and tenant advocates who sought the continuation of New York City's rent control law; and more from contributors with interests in health care and education.
Cuomo's big individual supporters include people in New York City real estate and business circles, many of whom have business with the state. Cuomo has appointed some of those supporters to state boards and positions. Howard Milstein, for example, contributed $25,000 to Cuomo on Feb. 3. Cuomo appointed the Manhattan banker and real estate developer to head the Thruway Authority on May 31.
"Fundraising in Albany usually peaks in March, the month before the budget is due," Mahoney said. "This year, the highly public battles over issues such as gay marriage, a property tax cap, and rent control kept the special interest spigots running into the summer."
Such fundraising while issues are being negotiated and debated is common and a concern of good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters. Cuomo campaigned last year on a promise to limit Albany's "pay to play" culture, part of which is addressed in an ethics bill he and the Legislature approved this year.
Records show Cuomo's campaign received the check from the gay marriage lobbyist on May 3, the same day he announced it was a "different day" and he was optimistic gay marriage would pass, despite its defeat in 2009. Rallies and a stepped-up effort began days later to lobby the Senate's Republican majority, closely allied with Cuomo, to provide enough votes to pass the historic measure.
In April, Cuomo had committed top staffers to organize the lobbying of supporting groups.
Cuomo signed the legalization bill June 24 after he helped persuade four Senate Republicans to vote for it.
Those Republicans each received $10,300, the maximum contribution allowed by law, from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports gay marriage.
National gay marriage advocates also provided as much as $50,000 to the senators.
"The mayor said he would support Senate Republicans who stood up — and he did," said Bloomberg spokesman Micha Lasher.
That prompted Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a minister who was the lone Democratic senator to vote against gay marriage, to question publicly if senators were for sale.
"If this is not a quid pro quo, please tell me what this is?" Diaz said.