New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D.) got a much-needed boost for her controversial budget proposal, thanks to a secretive injection of millions from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Through a "maze of shell groups and indirection," the billionaire Democrat secretly infused a mundane-sounding dark money group called American Opportunity with $5 million in seed money to support the unpopular governor’s budget, the New York Times reported. Hochul has until April 1 to sell lawmakers on the $227 billion state budget proposal, which has drawn criticism from New York’s progressive lawmakers.
Bloomberg’s secret cash infusion comes as Hochul struggles to assert control over state lawmakers in Albany, after winning her first full term in November with much thinner margins than expected. But it hasn’t helped her with an already-inflamed left flank, who slammed Bloomberg’s covert public relations campaign.
"This is an absolutely disgusting show of financial power from Michael Bloomberg and doesn’t do the governor any favors," democratic socialist state senator Jabari Brisport told the Times. "This sort of cements that narrative that her ties and allies are the one percent and not everyday working-class people."
American Opportunity has already spent $3 million in ads designed to shield Hochul from opposition from progressives, who oppose Hochul’s efforts to rein in New York’s controversial bail law and her pledge to not raise income taxes. The budget also includes a proposal to outlaw flavored cigarettes in the state, which has elicited fierce opposition from black activists who fear the policy will lead to a law enforcement crackdown on their community.
That provision was the brainchild of Hochul’s policy director, Micah Lasher, who shares extensive ties with Bloomberg, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Lasher, who was a key figure in crafting Hochul’s budget, led Bloomberg’s legislative agenda in the Big Apple from 2010 through 2013, and in the early 2000s he helped managed the billionaire’s mayoral campaigns while working as a founding partner of the Democratic consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker.
American Opportunity also shares ties to the Democratic Governors Association, whose spokeswoman, Christina Amestoy, identifies as a senior adviser for the dark money group. She told the New York Times that the group will disclose its contributions in July, as required by state law.
Still, campaign finance watchdogs panned Bloomberg’s secret contribution, which appears to have been timed so that it would be kept secret from the public until after Hochul’s budget battle had passed.
"Voters deserve transparency, not the litany of end-runs around their right to know who is supporting campaigns and campaign materials," Common Cause/NY executive director Susan Lerner told the New York Post. "New Yorkers shouldn’t have to tolerate coy dodges from Party Leaders and the people running American Opportunity; they deserve answers."
Bloomberg is no stranger to exploiting loopholes in campaign finance laws.
Bloomberg self-funded his failed Democratic presidential primary campaign in 2020 to the tune of more than $1 billion. After dropping out of the race, he funneled $18 million in leftover campaign funds to the Democratic National Committee, an amount that far exceeded the individual contribution limit of $35,500 to national party committees. Even though all the funds originated from Bloomberg’s personal accounts, he was able to exceed the individual contribution limit because he laundered the contribution through his failed campaign.
The billionaire’s generous contribution to the DNC bought him just five minutes to speak at the party’s convention in August 2020.