Cuomo Has $18 Million in Campaign Cash. What Can He Do With It?
Even after his resignation takes effect in less than two weeks, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will still control the biggest campaign capital in New York politics, an $ 18 million war chest amassed in apparent preparation. for a fourth term next year. .
That prospect now seems distant: Mr Cuomo, accused of sexually harassing nearly a dozen women, announced on Tuesday he would step down as he faced impeachment threat and a concert of appeals upon his resignation.
But his huge stockpile of campaign funds – the most money kept by a departing New York politician in recent memory – offers him an array of possibilities, including the chance to attempt a possible comeback or play a role in the campaign. political life of the State by making a donation to other candidates.
Mr. Cuomo is far from the first top elected official in New York to abruptly step down. What is remarkable, and has garnered attention in Albany political circles, is the sheer scale of money still at its disposal. That’s more than 10 times more than Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is about to take her place, has in her campaign account.
When Eliot Spitzer resigned his governorship in 2008 in a prostitution scandal, he had recently declared $ 2.9 million to the bank. Eric Schneiderman, the former attorney general, had around $ 8.5 million in his campaign account when he resigned in 2018 after several women accused him of assaulting them.
After each official departure, their campaigns contacted donors and offered to reimburse contributions. The Schneiderman campaign did so in emails to major donors who poured in large sums in the months leading up to his resignation, according to a person who worked on the effort, and who ultimately made nearly 1.7 million dollars. dollars.
The Spitzer campaign did it more broadly, emailing each donor and offering to repay as many of their contributions as possible, a senior campaign official said. Fans felt betrayed, the person said, and the refunds were a way of trying to redeem themselves from those who believed in Mr Spitzer. By the next deposit period, his campaign had returned about half of his remaining campaign funds.
Mr Cuomo has raised over $ 2 million this year, most notably during a $ 10,000 per plate event in late June – as the state attorney general’s investigation was ongoing – that drew supporters long-time and union leaders.
A person familiar with the governor’s campaign said that so far there had not been many requests for reimbursement. The campaign’s finance director did not respond to requests for comment on the refunds or how Mr. Cuomo intended to use his remaining funds.
State campaign finance rules limit how Mr. Cuomo can spend the money, campaign finance experts have said. He can’t use the money, for example, to pay or buy a new car or rent a house after he leaves the governor’s mansion later this month.
He also can’t use the funds to run for federal office or in New York City, where campaign finance rules are stricter. When Mr Spitzer attempted a political comeback in 2013, running for New York City comptroller, he leaned on his family’s money. (He lost.)
Mr. Cuomo is allowed to donate to nonprofits, as long as the groups are registered in New York and have no connection with them.
He can also make political donations to candidates or state and local party organizations and has the means to do so in many races. Such contributions can be a way to support like-minded candidates and are generally welcome, especially in tight races. But candidates may be wary of accepting money from Mr. Cuomo.
And he is free to spend the money on anything that would be considered campaign related. In this there may be some room for interpretation, campaign finance advocates said. He could devote it to an effort to rehabilitate his image or even to travel, as long as the activities could somehow relate to his past government service or a future campaign for a state post.
“The law is not specific about the use of surplus campaign funds,” said Kenneth A. Gross, an expert in campaign finance law. “How they can be used depends on the facts. “
What is clear is that Mr. Cuomo could use campaign funds to conduct polls or create political ads and test the waters for a comeback.
Those driven out of Albany amid a scandal or criminal investigation have often turned to their campaign coffers to cover legal fees, although campaign finance lawyers have said there was limits to this practice.
The road to Governor Cuomo’s resignation
Mr. Schneiderman, for example, had lingering legal issues and continued to pay law firms out of his campaign account, including $ 200,000 in the latest case. He has also made significant contributions to nonprofit groups from his campaign account, including those focused on gender equality and immigrant rights.
Mr Cuomo has already used his campaign money to defend himself against legal threats and in the court of public opinion: Rita Glavin, his personal lawyer who spoke before his resignation speech and appeared regularly on television to defend him, received $ 285,000 for his cabinet, according to the most recent Cuomo campaign file, which covers a period up to early July. She most likely received other payments; new deposits are not due until early next year.
A more open question is whether Mr Cuomo could use that money to pay lawyers representing other members of his administration, or to reach deals with the women who accused him of harassment – and, in a case of trial and error – or to defend oneself. himself against any possible criminal charges related to his personal conduct, campaign finance experts said.
“The law is very complicated on issues that shouldn’t be that complicated,” said Laurence D. Laufer, campaign finance lawyer. “The law really allows for a wide use of campaign funds for legal expenses related to campaigning, public office or party office. “
Even if he was kicked out of his future post after impeachment – an open question in Albany – he would not lose access to funds: he would still be able to make political or charitable donations, fundraisers have said. in the countryside. A bill introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday proposed to change that.
And there’s nothing forcing Mr. Cuomo, who is 63, to spend campaign money quickly. He is free to bide his time as long as he wants. The only time limit is death: After a candidate dies, their campaign funds must be distributed within a certain time frame, campaign finance lawyers said.
“They can make contributions to candidates, they can give to charities or political parties,” said Jerry H. Goldfeder, a campaign finance lawyer. “But most of the time, they hang on to it.”
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