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Oppo Research Secrets

September 30, 2014

Every candidate does it.  You check to see how your opponent voted on garter belt legislation. And then you analyze the campaign contributions of the garter belt lobby.  You Google the opponent and all of his friends and relatives. You ask around in his or her home community. You review real estate transactions. You look for DUIs and domestic disturbances. Anything.

In 2006, when Kirstin Gillibrand’s people asked around in Clifton Park, NY, there was quite a buzz about an incident that occurred a few months earlier at Congressman’s Sweeney’s home.  The state police report on that incident somehow found its way into reporters’ hands. It cost Sweeney his career.

This episode occupies a corner niche in the Pantheon of Opposition Research in New York. There’s an ornate room in the edifice for the Spitzer saga.

It seems pretty clear today that Spitzer’s enemies knew about his secret life well before it was revealed in the media. Some believe they were the ones who tipped off the Feds.  We’re not talking about people like Roger Stone. We’re talking about powerful and discreet people on Wall Street whom Spitzer had crossed.  It’s said that these people were wired to North Fork Bank, where Spitzer had a personal account. It’s said that they had the ability to check on his financial transactions, and that they told the feds about relatively small denomination checks written to certain companies that were fronts for illicit activity. It’s said that they had Spitzer tailed.

Creepy? Yeah. Legal? Borderline. Legit? Absolutely.

A pol has to expect this kind of review. To be involved in the game and think that your secrets won’t be revealed is delusional.

The current campaign cycle in New York is incredibly tame. The Cuomo camp raised questions about Zephyr Teachout’s residency. It was fair. As we’ve written in the past, her problems were right there in front of everyone. She repeatedly claimed a Vermont residence on her tax forms and other official documents. A judge reviewing the matter found that since she’d also maintained a residence in New York, there wasn’t an election law problem.  An IRS review might be more of an issue for her, however.

Astorino and Cuomo are now doing a tit-for-tat thing. Astorino cited a series of instances where companies with state contracts made contributions to Cuomo’s campaign. Yesterday, Cuomo’s people cited a number of instances where companies that do business with Westchester County made political contributions to County Executive Astorino.

It’s legit to point out these situations, but if you do the math you can see why this “pay to play” isn’t a big deal at all. In Astorino’s case, eight percent of county contractors contributed to his campaign. In Cuomo’s case, three percent contributed. Flip it around. A better headline would be: “More Than 90 Percent of State and County Contractors Made No Political Contributions.”

Again, it’s all so mamby-pamby when compared to the Sweeney and Spitzer stuff or the Paladino “love child” controversy four years ago. Of course, we’re just entering the critical period in this election cycle. October is when these things break.

Astorino continues to be pressed to release his tax returns. He’s done so partially, but has not released the full returns going back five years, which is standard practice for statewide candidates. We asked around on this and heard that his reluctance to do so is not because there’s any financial irregularity as the Cuomo people suspect. Instead, it is probably related to the fact he was married before and the older tax returns show a liability to the ex-wife.  Astorino is said to be very sensitive on this matter. There’s obviously nothing wrong with the fact he was married before. It’s just that it is not in tune with the narrative of him being a dimpled nice guy with the picture perfect family.

As for Cuomo secrets, well, Astorino is pressing for Sandra Lee’s tax returns. It’s hard for us to imagine an issue there. To us, she’s a non-combatant. All you have to do is follow her twitter feed. She’s focused on decorating cupcakes. She not involved in state issues at all. If she became involved in politics in some way, our view of what she ought to disclose would change, however.

We actually tried to do some opposition research on Cuomo recently. We were curious to see whether there’s a lobby firm that is favored now. That’s a matter that ought to be reviewed regularly. Is Cuomo driving business to friends and former associates?  In this regard, we remember the Pataki days. In the space of 18 months, a law firm where Pataki was once a partner went from 17th to first in bond counsel work.  It was like they’d won the lottery.

When we reviewed lobby rankings over the last few years and cross referenced them for Cuomo connections, we couldn’t find much that stood out. There’s been some reordering of the ranks, but it’s not dramatic. The notable thing is that some predominantly Republican firms seem to have held their own, even as state government becomes more Democrat controlled. Some firms with old Mario Cuomo hands have done better than they did under Spitzer and Paterson, but there really doesn’t appear to be a “go-to” firm to reach Cuomo. There’s certainly nothing akin to the SKDK relationship with Schneiderman.

It’s still early. What oppo research material will find its way into the media in coming weeks? We can’t wait to see.

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