Governor Cuomo deserves credit for prodding the Legislature to agree to ethics reform.
But, in one area, his performance seems less than praiseworthy. So far, he has failed to deal credibly with campaign finance reform.
Indeed, as the Daily News pointed out recently, he is rewarding his rich campaign contributors with jobs and influence.
Thus, there are 13 appointments waiting for Senate approval and eight of them and their spouses contributed $328,402 to Cuomo’s campaign, according to the News. It’s hardly likely, one civic reformer says, to inspire public confidence.
Back in 2010, when he was running for office, Cuomo said: "The influence of lobbyists and their special interests must be drastically reduced with new contribution limits. We will be taking on very powerful special interests which have much to lose. We must change systems and cultures long in the making."
The New York Times noted: "As he delivered his announcement, Mr. Cuomo was sitting on millions in campaign cash from the very special interests whose influence he said he wanted to limit."
Susan Lerner of Common Cause/New York says: "The appearance of picking people who have provided you with donations is never the criteria we would recommend for appointments."
The leader of another reform group, Russ Haven of NYPIRG, told me: "At the end of the day each governor is judged by the quality of his appointments and how they performed."
Haven said there was a "perception problem" for the public in seeing that people who make major contributions to a campaign get important jobs.
According to the Daily News' Kenneth Lovett, among Cuomo’s major donors are:
- Howard Milstein, his nominee to chair the State Thruway Authority; he and his wife contributed $100,000 to the governor’s campaign
- Former lieutenant governor candidate Dennis Mehiel who was nominated to serve on the Empire State Development Corp.; Mehiel and his wife gave $82,000 to the campaign.
- RXR Realty boss Scott Rechler, nominated to serve on the Port Authority, who, with his wife, gave $71,000 to the campaign
Governor Cuomo has promised to tackle campaign finance issues but his administration is still young. As he strives to make progress on his agenda with the Legislature, it might be right to give him more time to handle this hot potato. The ethics reform package represented significant progress, although it was far from perfect.
Perhaps the people of New York should cut him a little slack on this one. But not too much slack!