WXXI AM News

Newly elected lawmakers slam Cuomo for pricey fundraiser

Mar 27, 2019

From left, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Sen. Jessica Ramos get ready for an impromptu press conference Wednesday.

Two freshman state senators and one recently elected Assemblywoman say they are incensed by a New York Times article documenting a recent fundraiser held by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that charged up to $25,000 per person.

Cuomo says he’s for a public campaign finance system, but Sen. Alessandra Biaggi says the governor is disingenuous to hold a major fundraiser just before the budget is due.

“It’s hypocritical,” Biaggi said. “It’s impossible to say that a $25,000 ticket is not influencing the decisions at arguably the most important time of our entire legislative session.”

Biaggi, who was joined by Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, stopped short of saying that Cuomo engaged in pay-to-play, which is illegal.

But they say public campaign financing needs to be part of the state budget.  And they say there needs to be a ban on holding fundraisers during budget season.

Niou -- who holds the seat held by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted of corruption in a scheme that partly involved campaign contributions -- says opponents of public campaign finance might actually fear more diversity in the Legislature.

“People are afraid of people that look like us,” said Niou, who is Chinese-American. “They’re afraid of more women running, single moms, they’re worried about people of color.”

Cuomo has said he does not see a need to discontinue raising campaign money until the rules are changed. And he’s said the donations don’t influence his policies.

In response, a senior adviser to Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, harshly criticized the lawmakers.

"These hypocrites should practice what they preach and take a look in the mirror. They and their colleagues hold fundraisers daily,  a hop, skip and jump from the Capitol," Azzopardi said in a statement. 

Ramos says she held a fundraiser recently, and says she gave back a check to a participant who did not share her beliefs.  Her account is also documented in the Times series.

The other two say they have not held any fundraisers. Biaggi later clarified that she did have a fundraiser in New York CIty, where the highest priced ticket for admission was $2500.