Behind that door are three men in a room...
Behind that door are three men in a room...
Illustration for article titled What Pay To Play Looks Like: Cuomo Donors Get Lots Of State Money

Andrew Cuomo and officials from Empire State Development, New York's economic development agency, were supposed to be handing out up to $750 million in financial assistance to development projects from all over the state today. But those hopeful to snag some public money for their projects will have to wait until tomorrow to see if their projects will get funding because the awards ceremony was postponed due to this awful weather.

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The awards are given to projects that were submitted to and scored by the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils established in 2011 to replace, at least in part, the fabulously corrupt "member items" process in the legislature. Those legislative earmarks lead to numerous legislators going to prison for channeling public money to often sham non-profits they controlled.

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The council members of each these regional economic development bodies were appointed by the governor. Many of those members in turn are Cuomo campaign donors. And many projects and businesses associated with those members seem to be very fortunate when it comes to getting state funding.

Several companies run by big-time donors to Gov. Cuomo have won millions of dollars in state economic development grants since he took office, state records show.

At least seven companies that received a total of $15.25 million in grants from state Regional Economic Development Councils are linked to $1.25 million in donations to Cuomo's campaign treasury since 2010, the records show.

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Very, very fortunate.

The host was Dan Pickett, nfrastructure's C.E.O. and a regular political donor. The guest of honor, Governor Andrew Cuomo, spent about an hour chatting with the attendees before and after brief remarks about the programs he's pushed to improve the state's business climate. According to campaign finance records, the Democratic governor reaped $67,000 from people and businesses in the greater Capital Region several days after the event.

For Cuomo, it was one of the dozens of events that helped him raise a record $46.9 million for his re-election. But for members of the Capital Region Economic Development Council like Albany Medical Center C.E.O. James Barba and realtor Bob Blackman, then a member of nfrastructure's board, the soiree marked the occasion of their first political contributions to the governor.

The event came several months before Cuomo announced the council had won $82.8 million, in part for projects around the eight-county region—a reversal after two years of being snubbed in the state's competitive funding process.

And several attendees, including council members, benefited from that win. The information technology company nfrastructure was awarded $750,000 to consolidate its growing operations at a single site in Saratoga County. The state also awarded $2.5 million for a plan to redevelop buildings adjacent to Albany Med in the city's Park South neighborhood, and $950,000 to support rehabilitation of a downtown office building where Aeon Nexus, a consulting company owned by another council member, was planning to re-locate.

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Everyone involved says everything is on the up and up. Nothing shady happening here! Council members even regularly recuse themselves — some 1,500 times so far available records show — from decisions where they have a conflict of interest.

But the whole process does look pretty shady from the outside.

"When there's a close relationship between donors and contracts, the public is suspicious that there's a potential for favoritism," said Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause. "People will tell us that the projects have great merit and were evaluated on those merits, and have solid public benefit, but when you have that kind of a coincidental correlation it raises real issues in the minds of the public and undercuts their confidence in the objectivity of how their tax dollars are being spent."

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Indeed. But there's another way to look at this. Governor Cuomo appointed the members of the councils, putting those individuals, many of them big donors to his campaigns, in a position to influence the distribution of hundreds of millions of your tax dollars annually.

It's good to be a Cuomo donor.

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(image via NY Post)

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