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NYS Exposed: Taxpayer-funded mailers, ads praise Cuomo ahead of primary

September 05, 2018 06:06 AM

Two recent mailings and a magazine advertisement paid for with tax dollars have praised Governor Cuomo for his leadership in getting people registered to vote, enhancing artificial reefs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Some of the taxpayers who've received or seen them though are wondering whether that's a legal use of state money this close to a primary election.   

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One of the mailers was sent by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation a few weeks ago and says in part, "Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York State is taking unprecedented action to enhance artificial reefs on Long Island's coast…"  

Another ad, taken out in a magazine two weeks ago, reads in part, "Governor Cuomo's 2018 clean energy jobs and climate agenda is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing clean energy technologies…"

And voter registration cards, shared with the New York Post, were included in mailings sent to some New Yorkers recently that read,"Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is expanding access and opportunity for New Yorkers to register to vote," and then provided a website and phone number for registration.  

The onslaught of taxpayer-funded materials praising the governor this close to the election has the Republican candidate running against him fuming. 

"These are mailings that are targeted to audiences, why would a politician target mail to audiences except for the purpose of influencing the voter," Marc Molinaro tells News10NBC.  

Independent candidate for governor Stephanie Miner feels the same way.

"There's a time and place for politics and it's not on government time and the taxpayer's dime," she says.  

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "On any given day, almost all state agencies that send out press releases credit Governor Cuomo in the top paragraph, what makes this different than that?" 

Blair Horner, executive director, NYPIRG: "Well, it's the closeness to the election itself. We believe that once an elected leader announces his or her intent to run for re-election, they should not send out any taxpayer-funded mailers unless it's an emergency situation that needs to be addressed." 

Lewke: "What are the rules right now for the governor when it comes to what he can and cannot do?" 

Horner: "There are clear prohibitions on the executive doing certain things (this close to an election) but it's mainly in the broadcast area and again, there's a lot of gray area…these are powers that incumbents have and use to their advantage all the time. I mean for a governor to use all the vast power of incumbency to help in their re-election effort is certainly not unique to this governor, most of them have done it."

Governor Cuomo isn't the only one spending time in the "gray area." 

An earlier investigation by News10NBC showed that legislators on both sides of the aisle in New York State tend to send double the number of mailers touting their successes in election years.

There are rules for the legislative branch that prohibit taxpayer-funded mailers from being sent 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election but those regulations do not extend to the executive branch. 

In a statement to News10NBC, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo says, "The only things the agencies are promoting are policies and initiatives designed to improve the lives of New Yorkers, and we would count expanding access to voting registration, protecting New York's environment and fighting climate change among them.  All language used conformed with all applicable rules and regulations."

Horner says it's not likely there is anything illegal about the mailers but they do give the governor an unfair advantage. 

"The lawyers they check with are of course their subordinates, there really should be some sort of outside review. The state has a state ethics watchdog for example which would be more appropriate for them to make the determination, not someone who is paid by the governor," he says.  

Molinaro has asked that watchdog, JCOPE, to conduct an independent investigation. 

So far, it hasn't commented on whether it will.

"Using taxpayer-funded material in the heat of a primary to move the needle in an election is at the very least inappropriate and quite frankly, I think on the verge of being illegal," he tells News10NBC.  

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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