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With big fundraising lead, fewer charter backers gave to Cuomo

Crowds at dueling education rallies earlier this year in Albany, two of the many expenses that lobbying groups had in an unusually busy legislative session.
Crowds at dueling education rallies earlier this year in Albany, two of the many expenses that lobbying groups had in an unusually busy legislative session.

In a year where Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered strong protections for New York City’s charter schools, his campaign chest is relatively empty of donations from the sector’s prominent backers.

Cuomo continued to attract financial support from some charter school backers, but fewer donors forked over contributions to his campaign in the past six months than in years prior, according to campaign filings disclosed on Tuesday. For instance, none of the 27 philanthropists, bankers, real estate executives and advocates who lined Cuomo’s coffers with at least $800,000 between 2010 and 2014 donated to his campaign this year.

Cuomo, who has about $35 million stashed away in his account, isn’t hurting for cash. He pulled in major donations from Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and Stanley Druckenmiller, chair of Harlem Children’s Zone, who each gave the maximum of $60,800. Democrats for Education Reform donated another $5,000 in May.

And Cuomo still out-raised his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, $8.5 million to $3.4 million from Jan. 15 to July 15, the filings show. He is expected to handily win a Democratic primary against Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and the general election against Astorino.

But the ebb of campaign contributions may reflect a political calculus on the part of Cuomo, who is often named in speculative discussions about the 2016 presidential race. Donations from charter backers, including Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and several of her board members, became the target of criticism from teachers unions and their allies this winter after Cuomo pushed through laws that guaranteed facilities for new charter schools in New York City, a direct rebuke of Mayor Bill de Blasio. In recent weeks, Cuomo has sought to win those groups back to shore up support from Democrats ahead of the election season.

For his part, Astorino’s opposition to the state’s adoption of the Common Core might have earned him his own financial boost. Sean Fieler, a conservative New York City hedge fund manager and vocal critic of the national learning standards, gave $40,000 to Astorino in February (Astorino opted his children out from taking the state’s Common Core-aligned tests and, last week, announced intentions to create a “Stop Common Core” line on the ballot box).

Here are some other highlights from political filings released today:

Cuomo still has the support of some right-leaning education advocates. Bruce Kovner, who supports Bronx Preparatory Charter School and Albany-based Brighter Choice charter schools, gave $5,000 to Cuomo’s campaign. J.C. Huizenga, who founded the for-profit National Heritage Academies and is a prominent donor to Republican presidential campaigns, gave Cuomo $15,000. National Heritage Academies operates 75 charter schools nationwide, including four schools in New York City.

Some former Cuomo contributors crossed party lines. Manhattan Institute Chairman Roger Hertog, a philanthropist who has donated to Success Academy among other charter schools, last year gave $30,000 to the governor’s reelection campaign. This year, he switched sides, sending $20,000 to Astorino’s campaign just five days ago, filings show.

Expensive lobbying behind push for prekindergarten and charter school protections. Final tallies aren’t yet posted online, but state lobbying efforts this year by education stakeholders quickly added up. Families for Excellent Schools, the organization behind a six-week advertising blitz to urge lawmakers to increase funding to charter schools and guarantee them funding, spent nearly $6 million las March and April, filings show. The union-backed group behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to secure funding for prekindergarten in New York City spent $1.67 million this winter, according to Capital New York. The campaign, UPK NYC, launched before de Blasio even took office and was funded with the help of $350,000 from the American Federation of Teachers.

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