New York Republicans are seeking political advantage in the federal corruption trial of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former closest aide. One of the governor’s opponents is pressuring Cuomo to answer some of the revelations in the trial about how state business was conducted, and whether a pay to play “atmosphere” was created.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader and Republican candidate for governor, John DeFrancisco stood outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan on a windy winter day.
“What’s going on in the trial, in my mind, is much more important that the criminal charges against a few people,” DeFrancisco said.
He told reporters the trial of Governor Cuomo’s closest aide, Joe Percoco, going on inside the courthouse, is revealing that Cuomo presided over a pay-to-play culture in his office, where large donors to his campaign were rewarded with special favors.
“What we have here is an atmosphere, that to do business in the state of New York, you have to some way pay the piper,” he said.
Percoco and three codefendants, all businessmen, are charged with engineering two bribery schemes. Witnesses have testified that officials with the companies, Competitive Power Ventures and COR Development, organized big ticket fundraisers for Cuomo. They also took advantage of a loophole in campaign finance laws and bundled $125,000 in contributions, using limited liability companies, or LLCs, to hide the true amount of their donations from the public. All of the campaign donations are perfectly legal, as the judge in the case, Valerie Caproni, has stressed more than once to the jury. Cuomo has not been accused of any wrong doing.
Witnesses have also testified about how Percoco, while off the state payroll and managing the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign, frequented his former government offices and also gave advice to other members of Cuomo’s staff.
DeFrancisco admits his chances to defeat Cuomo in the race are slim, he has only a fraction of the governor’s $30 million campaign war chest, and little name recognition.
He’s not the only one trying to draw attention to the trial.
The state Republican Party is running an ad highlighting some of the allegations brought up in the court room.
“He became the most corrupt governor in 100 years,” a narrator intones.
But so far it is only online and is not appearing in the state’s major television markets.
The corruption trial has also attracted the attention of national Republican organizations, who view Cuomo as a potential presidential candidate for 2020. A super PAC known as America Rising, has launched a new website, “thirdcuomoson.com”, using the words Cuomo’s father, the late Governor Mario Cuomo, once used to describe his relationship to Percoco.
Since the trial began nearly three weeks ago, Cuomo has not commented on it, saying he respects the process and wants to let the proceedings play out.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on testimony that’s going on in that trial,” he said after an event on Long Island Thursday. “So let the trial proceed, let the jurors hear what they hear, and they’ll then make a decision.”
The governor has remained relatively secluded in Albany, venturing out during a snow storm Wednesday to visit a state highway garage, where he rode along in a snow plow and inspected equipment.
He did not, however, tell the media about the event, it was filmed by his own employees and distributed on YouTube.
DeFrancisco says Cuomo needs to “man up” and answer questions about what’s been revealed in the trial.
“The governor has to talk about this,” DeFrancisco said. “These are serious allegations."
While Cuomo does not want to talk about the trial, he did offer his opinion on Senator DeFrancisco’ s press conference outside the court room, saying it was politically motivated.
“Clearly this is all about politics,” said Cuomo, who said DeFrancisco could “make a positive difference” if he supported ethics reforms measures proposed by the governor, including banning lawmakers' outside income.
DeFrancisco backs other reform measures, including a bill to provide greater oversight over the governor’s economic development projects, which are at the root of the Percoco trial and other corruption trials for additional former Cuomo associates scheduled for the spring.