The Cuomo Conundrum

March 22, 2013 | | The Nation |

Fittingly, perhaps, Cuomo’s single biggest misstep in office can be tied to the power of moneyed interests. After fighting long and hard, the governor was forced to abandon a scheme to build a $4 billion convention center in Queens, as part of a joint venture with the Genting Group, a Malaysian corporation. It was a surprisingly naïve notion from the start—conventioneers don’t choose the Big Apple only to find themselves in Queens—but Cuomo’s inspiration appeared easier to decipher when The New York Times reported that Genting gave Cuomo’s political support group, the Committee to Save New York, a $400,000 contribution, and the New York Gaming Association ponied up another $2 million. (The names of the contributors to this group, which amassed $17 million for the governor’s 2010 campaign, have never been disclosed, but it is widely assumed to be heavily populated by real estate and financial industry donors.)

To take another example with profound symbolic resonance: while Cuomo is not the only Democrat to accept contributions from the Koch brothers, he has received more—by far—than any other. Indeed, in 2010, David Koch and his wife, Julia, ponied up $87,000 for Cuomo’s campaign—more than twice what they gave (in direct donations) to Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Though Cuomo’s aides insist they have no idea what the Kochs find so appealing about the governor, it’s really not that hard a call when one surveys the political landscape—particularly if Hillary Clinton should decide not to seek the presidency in 2016, which would leave Andrew Cuomo as its leading aspirant.

Given such ties, together with had been until recently (his unyielding defense of the economic interests of New York’s 1 percent of 1 percent—i.e., its multi-millionaires and billionaires—Andrew Cuomo presents a decidedly risky proposition for liberals and progressives. Ever since Barack Obama won re-election and Karl Rove sustained a string of humiliating defeats in almost all of the campaigns he helped to fund in 2012, many in the media have taken to arguing that the power of money in the post–Citizens United world has been significantly overestimated. But to examine only electoral results is to misunderstand the way money works its way through our politics. A recent Demos report, “Billion Dollar Democracy,” points out that it took just thirty-two wealthy individuals to match the combined donations of 3.7 million Americans who gave $200 or less to Obama or Mitt Romney during the last election cycle. As former FCC commissioner Michael Copps has explained, “The most pernicious influence of campaign spending comes not on Election Day but after…. That’s when the real scandals start. Special-interest donors who contributed six or seven figures are looking for a return on their investment. They’re looking real hard when a special-interest issue comes up before a congressional or statehouse or local committee or subcommittee. Their access is taken for granted.”