Last week the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy had applied for a job with the Rochester Business Alliance (RBA), a local chamber of commerce and business lobbying group. Duffy confirmed in an interview with the Democrat & Chronicle that on October 5th he had interviewed for the group’s executive director position, which is currently held by Sandra Parker, co-founder of Unshackle Upstate, a business organization that has lobbied heavily for fracking in addition to pushing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic agenda, and former owner of the lake house that Duffy purchased below market value in May.
Duffy’s interview came less than two weeks after we reported on ties between the Cuomo administration and Unshackle Upstate: Both Parker and the group’s other co-founder, Andrew Rudnick, served on the board of Cuomo-coordinated Committee to Save New York; both co-founders are appointees to Cuomo’s regional economic development councils; and other three other Unshackle Upstate leaders have been appointed by the Governor to various economic development positions.
Last week Governor Cuomo was joined by John Mack and Leslie Whatley to launch Start-Up NY, which will create zones around universities where businesses can locate tax-free for 10 years. Mack, formerly CEO and chairman and currently senior advisor of Morgan Stanley, will be an advisor to the governor and to Empire State Development’s board on the program. Whatley, formerly global head of corporate real estate at Morgan Stanley, will be running the program as executive vice president.
Why did Cuomo appoint Whatley and Mack to these new positions? From Crain’s New York Business:
The governor said that when he spoke to Ms. Whatley, the former head of global real estate at Morgan Stanley and previously JPMorgan Chase, about running the program, she said, “I know nothing about government,” and he replied, “Exactly. You’re hired.”
The governor explained his reasoning: “This is not about how government works; this is about how the business community works.”
In early September, Unshackle Upstate, a pro-business lobbying group based in Rochester, New York, announced a proposal to cut taxes on upstate New York businesses, suggesting that the cuts be paid for through revenue generated by allowing natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing. Unshackle Upstate has long been a supporter of fracking in New York State, operating as the political arm of two upstate business groups: the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the Rochester Business Alliance. The group is also closely aligned with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; co-founders Andrew Rudnick and Sandra Parker both had positions at the Committee to Save New York, the now-defunct lobbying group that coordinated with the governor and are Cuomo appointees to the Western New York and Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Councils respectively.
Though publicly Governor Cuomo has not taken a firm stance on fracking (recently he called the economic benefits “inarguable”, but said the question was still open as to whether they outweighed the practice’s environmental and health effects), the business elites that he has enlisted to push his economic agenda are staunch supporters. We first highlighted Governor Cuomo’s ties to the pro-fracking community through the Committee to Save New York last summer. With the fracking issue still undecided and with Unshackle Upstate’s new push to permit it, it’s worth taking a closer look at how this group of connected businesspeople is tied both to the governor and to the fracking industry.
New York State governor Andrew Cuomo has gotten a major assist during his first year and a half in office from an outside lobbying group known as the Committee to Save New York, a coalition of corporate elites that advocates for austerity policies and specializes in taking to the airwaves to heap praise on the governor and his agenda. Despite making a massive lobbying blitz in 2011 and being an extremely powerful political force in New York State, the Committee has refused to disclose its donors and will not be required to disclose its past donors by New York’s ethics commission, raising questions about who, exactly, is backing the group and funding what the New York Times has referred to as Cuomo’s “secret slush fund.” This being the sort of group we love to dig into here at LittleSis/PAI, we have done extensive research and recently published our findings in the report “The Committee to Save 1% NY.”
At least one controversial policy fight gave a fundraising boost to Cuomo’s Committee in 2011. According to the New York Times, the casino gambling industry donated millions to the Committee at the same time Cuomo was shaping his stance on casino gambling legalization. The Cuomo administration reportedly urged casino industry lobbyists to route large contributions to the Committee, which subsequently ran ads praising the governor. The Cuomo administration and the Committee had long denied coordinating, but reversed this claim in the wake of the Times bombshell, possibly after a blitz of untraceable Blackberry messages.
Has the fracking controversy provided a similar fundraising opportunity for Cuomo and his Committee? New York State enacted a moratorium on fracking in 2010 and is currently in the process of deciding whether to allow the controversial practice. The Cuomo administration has signaled that it will allow fracking in some areas of the state, and at least one fracker’s son is certain that Governor Cuomo has seen through the “smoke and mirrors” of the anti-fracking movement and is set to come down on the side of industry.
Governor Cuomo is hosting a $15,000-a-head fundraiser at the Top of the Rock tonight to raise money for a “likely battle with special interest groups” over his budget agenda. The location is appropriate because 30 Rockefeller Plaza (“30 Rock”) is owned by – and host to – some of the leading lights of the Committee to Save New York, the big business lobby that has come together to back Cuomo in his fight for tax cuts for the wealthy and budget cuts for everyone else.
30 Rock also brings together some of Committee’s – and New York’s – most notable corporate welfare cases, extremely wealthy people and companies who still want more: more handouts, more bailouts, more tax breaks, more loopholes. A quick and dirty review of some of the key players at the building, and how they profit at public expense:
In a prelude to the looming budget battle, a shadowy group going by the name of the “Committee to Save New York” has started coordinating with the Cuomo administration to promote the dawning of a new era of “fiscal sanity” in New York State. The group has amassed a $10 million war chest to run ads in support of a fiscal reform agenda heavy on budget cuts. One ad has already gone on the air touting Cuomo’s approach to the state’s budget problems.
Who, exactly, is behind the Committee to Save New York? To find out, LittleSis’s Cuomo Watch research group will be investigating over the course of the next month. The Committee has refused to disclose its donor list, but it has released its board list, and we have already added that info to the Committee’s page on LittleSis. We will be using that and other public record information to shed light on who, exactly, is behind these efforts, and what their true agendas and interests are.