ALBANY – Sen. Tim Kennedy may be a new guy around the Capitol, with limited political might, but that hasn’t made him shy about charging top-shelf prices for his fundraisers here.
Kennedy tonight is asking lobbyists and special-interest insiders to shell out $1,000 apiece to attend his fundraiser at a downtown Albany boutique hotel.
A block away, at a larger hotel, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the three or four most powerful politicians in Albany, is asking the same minimum admission fee to his fundraiser. Of course, lobbyists can give more, and do, but that’s the pricing floor to get in the door.
How is it that a lawmaker who has served slightly more than two years and whose Democratic Party conference does not control the Senate is able to charge $1,000 for his fundraiser?
It was a question not lost last week on some lobbyists who got the Kennedy fundraiser invitation.
“It’s crazy,” one lobbyist said of the price tag for the Kennedy event at 74 State, which is located just a couple blocks below the Capitol.
For Kennedy, it appears to be a strategy of attracting smaller crowds willing to pay more.
A look at his campaign filings covering part of February 2012, when he held his last fundraiser in Albany, showed a small number of donations that hit the $1,000 mark and above. Among them was $5,000 from Gerald Buchheit, a Buffalo-area road contractor, and $1,000 apiece from political action committees representing state troopers, dentists, hospitals, racetrack-based casinos and teachers.
Time and money are important for Kennedy.
He won his primary contest last September against Erie County Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant by just 139 votes and now is the time when politicians facing likely challenges in 2014 try to bulk up their campaign accounts. That is one way to dissuade other politicians from taking them on.
In January, Kennedy listed $116,000 in his campaign bank, according to his filing with the state elections board. That is $218,000 less than what he had on hand a year ago in January.
“Part of the difficulty with having to run every two years is the fact that there’s a fundraising component that has to be taken into consideration throughout the year. I have to fundraise very aggressively, and this is part of it,” Kennedy said of his fundraiser tonight.
In his invitation, Kennedy gives lobbyists and special-interest group representatives an online donation option – with Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards accepted – if they can’t attend tonight’s fundraiser.
“Tim is committed to continuing his work to create jobs, protect our children and families and stand up for Western New York. Things in New York State are getting better, but there’s still more work ahead. Your contribution is critical to spread our message of fighting for Western New York,” the online donation site says.
The $1,000 donation Kennedy is seeking is twice the admission price Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Erie County Republican, charged two weeks ago at his Fort Orange Club fundraiser in Albany, and significantly more than the $150 that Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, another Erie County Republican, charged at a fundraiser in Depew last month.
It is also double the minimum level Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged at his Albany fundraiser last week.
But Kennedy’s minimum price does match the $1,000 that Skelos and Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican, set to get into their Albany fundraisers last month.
On tap tonight, besides face time with Kennedy: an open bar and hors d’oeuvres. The lawmaker could not say what finger foods $1,000 provides for paying guests.