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NY Politicians Face Pressure To Return Money To Controversial Donor

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A left-leaning group is asking New York’s top politicians to give back donations from a hedge fund manager who made racially charged comments against the state’s only black female legislative leader. But so far most, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, have held on to the money.

Daniel Loeb, the founder and chief executive of the multi-billion dollar hedge fund Third Point LLC, received attention, when in a Facebook post, he compared the leader of the state Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb was commenting on an argument over which faction of the divided state Senate was best equipped to lead the chamber, and he said that Stewart-Cousins, who is African American, has done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood." The post was later deleted. Stewart-Cousins called the comments “outrageous and offensive." 

Loeb is a major campaign donor to the state’s top politicians. He gave over $170,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo, over $19,000 to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and $50,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, as well as tens of thousands of dollars to individual GOP Senators’ campaigns. He also donated $50,000 to the breakaway Democrats who form a ruling coalition with the Republicans, the Independent Democratic Conference. He did not give money to the regular Senate Democrats.

Michael Kink is with the progressive group Hedge Clippers, which lobbies for campaign finance reform. He says Loeb’s comments are “beyond the pale."  

“All of them should give the money back,” Kink said.

Only New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has acted so far. Stringer, at a rally in Harlem in support of Stewart-Cousins held earlier this month, said he’s donating the $9,000 he received from Loeb in 2011 to a mainstream democrat, Robert Jackson, who is challenging a member of the breakaway Democrats, Marisol Alcantara, in a primary next year.

Both Cuomo and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein immediately repudiated Loeb’s remarks after they became public, but so far have not returned any money. Neither have responded to a request to comment.

Loeb also gave over a million dollars to a Super PAC that promotes charter schools. He sits on the board of New York City’s Success Academy, which operates several charter schools. Charter schools got a boost at the end of the legislative session, when part of last minute deal included adding more charter schools in New York City. And, as a result of a 2016 agreement between Cuomo and lawmakers, a State University of New York Board of Trustees Committee is now considering whether to ease teaching requirements to make it easier for charter schools to hire teachers.

Kink, with Hedge Clippers, says Loeb is far from the only wealthy person to give very large donations to politicians and political causes in New York. He says the state’s relatively lax campaign finance laws encourage the practice.

“Regular people can’t get these kinds of things from government,” Kink said. “Because regular people don’t give millions of dollars in camping contributions.”

To complicate matters, Loeb has also donated to some left-leaning advocacy groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights, which fights for a woman’s right to choose abortion, and the Human Rights Campaign, a group that lobbied to get marriage equality enacted in New York in 2011.

Kink says the donations are not the same because the groups don’t actually make policy. And his group is not calling on the not-for-profits to give the money back.

“Elected officials are the ones that make public policy,” Kink said. “Nonprofits just aren’t in the same boat as when you’re giving cash to the people who can pass or sign the laws.”

Hedge Clippers is also not calling on charter schools, which are more associated with conservative causes, to return donations they have received from Loeb.

Kink says his group plans to continue to keep pressure on the state’s top politicians to return the Loeb donations, and will “bird dog” Cuomo and other elected officials at public events this fall.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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