NY state Dems accused of ‘shakedown’ over fundraiser invite

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Lobbyists and other deep-pocketed donors are being squeezed by Democrats in the state Senate to buy tickets for as much as $25,000 each for a virtual reception with top lawmakers — who are in the final days of considering legislation before adjourning for the summer, The Post has learned.

The urgent invite to the June 23 event led critics to slam the move on Tuesday as the equivalent of a threat to hold bills hostage — including one that if enacted would grant tenure to unionized teachers and principals who didn’t undergo annual reviews due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a June 2 email, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee CFO Koren Frankfort urged recipients to “RSVP at your earliest convenience” and suspiciously noted: “I am looking to let leadership know who will be in attendance.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Queens), who is also the DSCC’s chairman, will be the featured guests of the Zoom videoconference, according to the invitation.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a co-host of the “e-summer reception.”
Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Both hold enormous sway over what bills will be voted on before Thursday’s scheduled end of the legislative session.

“The timing and language in this solicitation is horrible. It’s almost like a shakedown,” said John Kaehny, head of the good-government group Reinvent Albany.

The invitation
State Senate Democrats are having lobbyists and other donors commit to a pricey virtual fundraiser.

Some lobbyists were even harsher in denouncing the strong-arm overture, with one calling it “unethical” and a “quid pro quo.”

“You’re essentially leaning on people, letting them know if their name doesn’t appear there, the leader is going to know,” the lobbyist said.

“You’re sending me a ransom note to either contribute or be on the bad list.”

The lobbyist suggested that the Senate Democrats had “become very brazen” because they hold a 43-20 supermajority over Republicans.

Another lobbyist said, “I don’t think I’ve seen that particular line used, that ‘We’ll be sharing this with the leadership.’”

“Really? Some things don’t need to be said and that’s the kind of thing that gets people in trouble,” the lobbyist added.

The minimum contribution to take part in the event is $1,000.

Kaehny also noted that the appeal for contributions came amid the multiple scandals plaguing Gov. Cuomo, who has the power to approve or veto legislation when it’s sent to him.

NYS Senator Mike Gianaris
NYS Sen. Mike Gianaris has a lot of sway over what bills pass the Senate.
James Messerschmidt

Cuomo, whose third term expires next year, is holding a fundraiser in New York City on June 26, with tickets priced at $10,000 a person or $15,000 for a couple.

A spokesman for the New York State United Teachers said it had lobbied in support of the tenure bill and was hopeful it will pass, but didn’t say if the union received the invite from the DSCC — or how it responded.

John Kaehny
John Kaehny noted this move comes amid the scandals revolving around Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Chad Rachman/New York Post

Last year, Cuomo authorized tenure without an annual review via executive order, but he was stripped of his pandemic-related powers in March.

Other pending legislation includes high-profile measures that would provide universal health insurance coverage for all New Yorkers without premiums, copays or deductibles and let “gig” workers join a union and engage in collective bargaining over their salaries.

Neither of those bills is expected to pass.

DSCC Executive Director Alex Elmasri admitted Tuesday that language in the invitation was inappropriate — but didn’t say what, if anything, was being done to retract it.

“Our fundraising staff was simply trying to get the list of RSVPs in order to prepare logistics for this event,” he said.

“The wording was unfortunately awkward and should not have been sent in that manner.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (C) is flanked by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (L) and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie (R) while speaking to members of New York state's Electoral College
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is flanked by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie while speaking to members of New York state’s Electoral College.
HANS PENNINK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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