ALBANY – More than six months after New York’s sweeping crackdown on gun and ammunition purchases, money from supporters and opponents is still pouring into the chief combatants in the debate, though for very different purposes.
New Yorkers for Gun Safety, a state Democratic Party political action committee ostensibly controlled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, raised $408,000 in just 30 days, according to campaign filings made public this week.
That is considered a hefty sum by Albany standards – even more so because donations to policy causes typically dry up once a policy matter has been decided at the Capitol.
While Cuomo backers say the group was created to highlight the importance of gun control, his critics say its chief mission is more likely intended to mend the governor’s poll numbers.
But grass-roots donors have given nearly $300,000 to help the group’s legal push to reverse the SAFE Act, which restricts the sale and possession of assault-style weapons and enacts new gun registration and ammunition tracking procedures, according to Tom King, president of the New York Rifle and Pistol Association.
The governor’s money-raising campaign is further proof that Democrats are using advertising to repair the dent in Cuomo’s popularity, especially among more conservative upstate voters, since the SAFE Act’s passage in early January, supporters say.
New Yorkers for Gun Safety, a PAC created in March by Cuomo’s Democratic Party, began raising money in mid-April and stopped just a month later, state campaign finance records made public this week show. The group, with direct help from Cuomo, turned to hedge fund executives, real estate speculators, investment banking insiders and lawyers – none from upstate – to raise the $408,000.
The single largest donation, $100,000 from hedge fund honcho William Ackman of Manhattan, was added to $50,000 from a Los Angeles investment firm and $25,000 apiece from former Michigan Rep. David Bonior, advertising and communications executive Donald Deutsch and Donald Mullen, who helped Goldman Sachs make money during the housing meltdown before starting up his investment firm.
All but about $800 of that $408,000 was spent in April and May.
And all but 20 cents – levied as a bank fee – went to fund an advertising campaign promoting Cuomo for his role in pushing the gun law and urging the federal government to take action on gun control.
One ad featured James Brady, the former presidential spokesman who was disabled during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The second featured the father of a child slain during last year’s Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut.
The advertisements ran only in New York State. The average contribution under the individuals/partnership category of donors to New Yorkers for Gun Safety was $12,400.
That stood in sharp contrast to the individual average donation of $41.65 apiece to the New York Rifle and Pistol Association.
The gun rights group saw its single largest expense – $1,500 – going to the Erie County Republican Party.
Overall, it spent $5,500 on political activities; the Cuomo group spent about 75 times that level.
The Washington-based NRA Political Victory Fund, an arm of the nation’s biggest gun rights lobbying group, reported raising no money during the period for its New York efforts. It disclosed a negative $915 in spending, which took into account a $1,000 donation the group sent last October to Buffalo Republican State Sen. Mark. Grisanti, who voted for the Cuomo bill and never cashed the check, campaign records show.
Another gun rights group, the Shooters Committee on Political Education, raised just $3,200 during the past six months and spent $2,500, with most of that going to Western New York State lawmakers who voted against the SAFE Act.
It is not surprising, given Cuomo’s drop in polls after the gun bill was passed, that the Democratic Party set up an organization to run ads to remold the gun debate and Cuomo’s image, said King, the head of the NRA affiliate group in New York. He said it is noteworthy the Cuomo-backed PAC raised so much money after the vote and the bill was signed into law.
“It’s Andrew Cuomo trying to justify his role in pushing the SAFE Act legislation,” King said.
The ad depicts Cuomo fishing in a stream.
King said his organization has not focused on raising money for political efforts since members realize they are not going to undo the law in the Legislature. Instead, efforts are on a court challenge, which King said has cost his group $350,000 so far.
New Yorkers for Gun Safety dismissed the GOP notion that it was formed to help improve Cuomo’s poll standings.
“There is tremendous support in New York for strong gun safety measures,” Kauffmann said.