Cuomo got $200k in donations from Islanders arena developers as reward for backing project

As I’ve often pointed out in this space, political corruption is seldom as simple as a quid pro quo, where a politician backs a favored project solely in exchange for campaign donations. There are other factors at work — wanting to have big shiny projects they can use to show they’re allegedly creating jobs, wanting to please “growth coalitions” of business leaders who band together behind development deals, wanting the damn lobbyists to finally go away — that are equally if not more effective than outright bribes.

That said, handing over stacks of twenties is a time-honored way to at least say thank you for services rendered. And according to campaign finance records compiled by Newsday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo collected more than $200,000 worth of small bills in recent weeks in the wake of his support of the New York Islanders‘ new arena at Belmont Park:

Cuomo received $50,000 from Scott Malkin, and another $50,000 from Jon Ledecky, with both contributions listed as occurring on July 10, according to state campaign finance records. Ledecky and Malkin are the co-owners of the New York Islanders, who are in the midst of building themselves a new arena at Belmont. Belmont is state-owned land – and the project’s approval came after strong support from Cuomo.

Adding to the Belmont sundae just a few days later, an entity referred to in campaign finance data as Sterling Mets LP provided another $50,000 to Cuomo’s political coffers. Sterling Project Development, the real estate arm of Sterling Equities, the owner of the New York Mets, is partnering with the Islanders on the Belmont effort.

The cherry on top came from Oak View Group – another partner in the Belmont effort. Oak View itself contributed $5,000 on July 8. But Oak View chief executive Timothy Leiweke gave Cuomo $50,000 on July 8, and another $3,000 on July 14.

Is $203,000 in donations a lot? Cuomo’s relection campaign committee raked in just over $2 mllion in the last six months, so the Islanders developers’ cash amounted to about 10% of his total take, which is significant if not overwhelming. Though Cuomo has long relied heavily on donations from big developers and other donors with business before the state, so you can certainly argue that the promise of campaign cash is what got the Belmont arena team a seat at the table, even if it didn’t buy them the entire table.

New York state passed new campaign finance limits last winter that will cut the maximum donation per person to $18,000 — but these won’t go into effect until November 2022, which by total coincidence happens to be when Cuomo will just be finishing up his next re-election campaign. And anyway, there are probably members of the Ledecky and Malkin and Leiweke families who could be convinced to pass along an $18,000 check in their name to a guy who’s done so much for the family business. So long as politicians take their cash in the form of campaign donations and not pretend lawyer fees, pay-to-play is still the name of the game in political circles — at least until voters start electing candidates on the basis of whether they’ve refused to take big corporate donations, which is starting slowly to happen, but is likely to remain an uphill battle so long as some donors have more and more of the money while others have chump change.

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One comment on “Cuomo got $200k in donations from Islanders arena developers as reward for backing project

  1. it always seemed to me the project went very smoothly for the Islanders, e.g., beat out the proposal from the soccer team, got the new LIRR station, all decisions made by the state.

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