Campaign finance records show that in early August 2014 Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul brought in more than $35,000 from at least eight people and businesses named in subpoenas in the investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The donations coincide with a private fundraiser Hochul held at a Buffalo law firm, suggesting that numerous beneficiaries of the Buffalo Billion program all gathered with Hochul in Buffalo to donate to her and Cuomo’s campaign.
On August 4, 2014, Hochul told a central New York newspaper that she was going to make economic development a major focus of her campaign as Cuomo’s running mate. “I have a good handle on economic development issues for sure from my time in Congress, so we’ll be laser focused on that issue,” Hochul told Canandaigua’s Daily Messenger.
The next day, Hochul held a fundraiser at the headquarters of Buffalo law firm Phillips Lytle LLP, and, over the following two days, Hochul’s fundraising committee reported $333,741 in donations, more than any other three-day stretch in her campaign. Tens of thousands of dollars of the contributions during that period came from people and businesses that had benefitted from Cuomo’s economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion.
Though we have not obtained the guest list for Kathy Hochul’s Phillips Lytle fundraiser, the influx of campaign cash reported the two days following the event from Buffalo elites and economic development beneficiaries offers some clues as to who attended.
Among the apparent attendees of the event were former Whiteman, Osterman, & Hanna lobbyist Todd Howe, LPCiminelli executives Louis and Frank Ciminelli, and representatives of CHA Consulting and Norstar Development. Also donating to Hochul during this period were 17 partners at the Buffalo law firm Hodgson Russ, which represents LPCiminelli on its Buffalo Billion deals, and several executives from Buffalo real estate developer Uniland, which has bid on Buffalo Billion projects.
- A $15,000 donation from Clough, Harbour, and Associates was reported by Hochul’s campaign on August 7, two days after the Phillips Lytle fundraiser. Clough Harbour subsidiary CHA Consulting is under investigation for contracts it has received from Fort Schuyler Management Corp, the SUNY-affiliated non-profit that has been managing Cuomo’s economic development initiatives.
- In the two days following the fundraiser, Hochul reported receiving $6,000 from the lobbying firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna over three donations: $2,500 from Whiteman Osterman & Hanna and $2,500 from its now-defunct Washington subsidiary, WOH Government Solutions on August 6 and $1,000 from then-WOH Government Solutions lobbyist Todd R Howe on August 7. Howe is a key player in the investigation, allegedly operating as a fixer for companies receiving Buffalo Billion contracts, including CHA Consulting and LPCiminelli, while also working for SUNY Polytechnic, the public affiliate of Fort Schuyler Management Corp.
- LPCiminelli owner Lou Ciminelli and his sister-in-law Cynthia Ciminelli donated $5,000 and $1,000 to Hochul respectively on August 6. A little less than a week after the fundraiser, on August 11, Hochul reported a $1,000 donation from Cynthia’s husband, LPCiminelli executive Frank Ciminelli II. Paul Ciminelli, Lou’s brother and another Buffalo Billion beneficiary, had donated to Hochul earlier – $5,000 on July 17. The Ciminelli family companies have been awarded several lucrative Buffalo Billion contracts, including the partnership to build a $750 million plant for SolarCity in South Buffalo and LPCiminelli has been subpoenaed by US Attorney Preet Bharara over its contracts.
- On August 6 and 7, Hochul reported $9,550 in donations from 17 partners of Hodgson Russ LLP, Buffalo’s most prominent law firm. Hodgson Russ attorneys have played key roles in economic development projects driven by SUNY-affiliated non-profits and were a part of the team assembled by LPCiminelli in its successful bid for the SolarCity contract. Terrence Gilbride, LPCiminelli’s attorney on its SolarCity bid, donated $500 and Daniel Oliverio, the criminal attorney representing LPCiminelli in the federal investigation into the project, donated $1,000.
- Hochul also reported donations totalling $7,500 from Norstar Development companies and $9,000 from Uniland Development companies and executives. Norstar and its Swan Street Lofts project in Albany were named in the federal subpoena to Cuomo’s office and Uniland, a major real estate developer in Buffalo that has received millions in subsidies for its projects, was an ultimately unsuccessful bidder for the SolarCity contract.