Is It "Quid Pro Cuomo" Time? Charter Dollars Pour into Governor's Re-Election Campaign

Could charter school dollars pouring into the Governor's reelection campaign at the same time that new charter agreements are approved by the New York State really be "Quid Pro Cuomo"? It is probably just a coincidence, but readers and voters have to decide for themselves.
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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by John Munson-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by John Munson-Pool/Getty Images)

It is probably just a coincidence. Could charter school dollars pouring into Andrew Cuomo's reelection campaign at the same time that new charter agreements are approved by New York State really be "Quid Pro Cuomo"? Readers and voters have to decide for themselves.

One month before Election Day, the State University of New York Charter School Committee gave its approval for seventeen new charter schools in New York City, including fourteen new Success Academy charter schools. This will eventually give the politically connected network headed by its contentious chief executive, Eva Moskowitz, a total of fifty charter schools in the city with over 16,000 students. Three new charter schools were also approved for a group called Achievement First.

According to Joseph Belluck, the committee chairman, "parents in the communities where these schools are do not care about the politics of this issue. They want their kids to have good schools, and they want their kids to have a good education." That may be true. However, it is Belluck's job to know about the political issues, especially about the influence of political contributions, and take them into account before these decisions are made. But again, maybe he did.

Belluck, a partner in the Manhattan law firm, was appointed to the SUNY Board of Trustees in June 2010. Before founding his law firm in 2002 he was counsel to the New York State Attorney General. Belluck is a major Democratic Party contributor. According to the website Little Sis, between 2004 and 2012 he gave $134,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign and about $200,000 to other Democratic Party candidates and committees.

According to at least one website, in 2010, Belluck donated over $50,000 to Cuomo's successful gubernatorial campaign. New York Press reported that Belluck donated $21,900 to Cuomo in 2008, $34,000 in 2009, and $60,000 in 2012. The Albany-Times Union called Belluck Cuomo's second largest donor. Belluck is so politically connected that his law firm includes Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson. Sampson, by the way, was indicted in 2013 by a federal grand jury. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole money from the sale of foreclosed homes. The charges are still pending.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been hesitant to give charters free space inside public school buildings, fearing that they would crowd out other programs while only serving selected students and families. At a hearing held at the end of September at Public School 133 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, about two dozen people, including teachers and a representative of the local City Councilman, opposed opening new Success Academy schools in their neighborhood.

However, Governor Andrew Cuomo is a big advocate for charter schools. He spoke at a pro-charter rally in Albany in March 2014 and pushed through legislation forcing the city to either give new charter schools free space or to help pay their rent in private space. Eva Moskowitz has already hinted at lawsuits if her network does not get the space that it wants.

Cuomo's re-election campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school supporters, including William A. Ackman, Carl C. Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir. Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot who is on the Board of Directors of a charter school gave Cuomo's campaign $50,000 last year. Just before the Democratic primary on September , 2014, Cuomo received $41,000 from Daniel Loeb, a hedge-fund manager who is chairman of Success Academy charter schools.

Cuomo's reelection bid also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy supporters of Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy network, although as a not-for-profit organization the network itself is barred from making political donations. At least ten Success board members and two of their two spouses donated to Cuomo's reelection campaign fund. In addition, Cuomo received about $65,000 from Moskowitz's own political action committee.

The Cuomo reelection campaign also major contributions from Achievement First director Jonathan Sackler. Sackler, who lives in Connecticut, gave the Cuomo campaign $15,000 in November 2013 and $20,000 in September 2014.

Could charter school dollars pouring into the Governor's reelection campaign at the same time that new charter agreements are approved by the New York State really be "Quid Pro Cuomo"? It is probably just a coincidence, but readers and voters have to decide for themselves.

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