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Groups seek probe of NY gov, business lobby link


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A coalition of advocates for the poor and middle class on Monday accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the business lobbying group that supports him of having a "secret slush fund" to help the Democrat as well as Wall Street CEOs.

"The special interests are the agenda, rather the interests of the general public," charged Bobby Tolbert of VOCAL-NY. That's an advocacy group often aligned with public worker unions at odds with Cuomo. Tolbert then targeted Cuomo: "Whose side are you on?"

The lobbying group called the Committee to Save New York was created days after Cuomo won office in 2010 and has since become the state's biggest lobbying force. It collected $17 million from donors, which the group won't voluntarily identify.

The group has spent most of its funds on an unprecedented TV ad campaign that touts Cuomo's policies and accomplishments, bolstering his record popularity. That has allowed Cuomo to avoid tapping his already formidable $14 million campaign fund, where donors must be identified under law.

Cuomo and the committee had no immediate comment. After trying to distance himself from the committee for more than a year, Cuomo has acknowledged some coordination.

The committee has said it simply supports measures its members want to see enacted. The group includes the Partnership for New York City, an association of major Manhattan companies; and major real estate developers. The group has supported Cuomo's successful effort to cap property tax growth at 2 percent a year and other fiscal measures.

But on Monday, VOCAL-NY, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness and the Occupy Albany movement said the lobbying group's members directly benefited from Cuomo's policies. They said Cuomo's move to put more public workers in 401(k)-type retirement plans instead of traditional pensions that will create "billions of dollars" in Wall Street business. They also cite Cuomo's delay in acting on proposals to close corporate tax loopholes, while cutting school aid a year ago.

They also say Cuomo's proposal to create the nation's largest convention center at Aqueduct race track in Queens would also benefit real estate developers who have long sought to have the Javits convention center on Manhattan's West Side razed for new development. Cuomo, however, has said he plans to continue to use the Javits center, although it could be altered.

The groups have asked the state Joint Committee on Public Ethics to investigate the connection between Cuomo and the Committee to Save New York. A spokesman for the commission headed by Cuomo appointees didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Instead of funding retirees and school children, this public money is turning millionaires into billionaires," said Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative.