Business group opposing public campaign finance, Unshackle Upstate, is a big political spender
By Rob Galbraith  •  Jan 16, 2014 at 08:30 EST

The New York anti-tax group Unshackle Upstate has made fighting the public financing of elections a major priority. Late last year the group published an opposition white paper timed to coincide with the release of preliminary findings of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption (which advocated for public campaign financing), and during the Governor’s State of the State address Unshackle Upstate tweeted that public financing was “a non-starter” and “a recipe for more fraud and abuse.”

Unshackle Upstate frames its opposition to public campaign finance in the language of fiscal prudence and concern about corruption; however, the group and its constituents represent a deep-pocketed class of business elites who may see the influence their campaign dollars buy diminish in a public finance system. Since 2008, Unshackle Upstate and the organizations that lead it have spent nearly $2 million on donations and other political expenses.

Is the business group’s opposition to public finance less about fiscal responsibility than it is about maintaining elite hegemony over political spending?

Read more…

Unshackle Upstate’s LNG coalition
By Rob Galbraith  •  Dec 02, 2013 at 16:10 EST

Last week the Buffalo Niagara Partnership announced its 2014 policy agenda for the Western New York region, with support for liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling stations as a top priority. Currently, New York environmental law does not allow LNG facilities in residential areas or “in dangerous proximity to contiguous populations.” Bills now under consideration in the state legislature would change this, exempting LNG storage and transportation facilities with a capacity less than 40,000 gallons from the siting law and allowing LNG stations to be constructed outside of any city with a population of 1 million or more (i.e. outside New York City).

Using natural gas as automobile fuel would be a boon to a natural gas industry that is struggling to turn a profit on the glut of gas produced in the fracking age. In addition to LNG for automobiles, gas producers are promoting compressed natural gas (CNG) as vehicular fuel as well as LNG exports to increase demand for their product.

As we have pointed out before, BNP is a powerful business lobby in the region with strong ties to both the natural gas industry and New York State government. To push its LNG plans, BNP has co-founded a coalition called LNG for NY.

Read more…

Cuomo “shackled” to fracking lobby?
By Rob Galbraith  •  Sep 23, 2013 at 14:09 EST

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.

Read more…

The Committee to Frack New York?
By Kevin Connor  •  Aug 16, 2012 at 16:34 EST

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.”

Cuomo on his Blackberry.

Cuomo on his Blackberry.

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.

Read more…