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Bloomberg-funded PAC backing Hochul draws ire of progressive Democrats

A woman in a blue dress stands in front of a microphone.
Mike Groll
Office Of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov Kathy Hochul announces a budget deal on April 7, 2022

If you’ve watched television in the past couple of weeks, you couldn’t have missed the ads backing Gov. Kathy Hochul and her budget plan, which is due at the end of the month. The origin of the ad is murky and includes a large contribution from billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

The ad, from the political action committee American Opportunity, which is affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, touts Hochul’s proposals for more affordable housing and child care and increasing funding for police, public schools, and mental health services.

“Governor Hochul kept her word to not raise income taxes,” the ad’s narrator says.

Hochul has said repeatedly that she does not support increasing the income tax rate on the state’s wealthiest people. Democrats in the Legislature have proposed raising the tax rate for those making more than $5 million dollars a year.

One of those who would be affected by a tax increase on the rich is former New York City mayor and billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg.

According to a report in the New York Times, Bloomberg has contributed $5 million to help fund the ads. The PAC’s 501(c)(4) status permits it to withhold the names of its donors.

Hochul, asked by reporters about Bloomberg’s contributions to the PAC, did not comment on the source of the funding. But she said the ad simply reflects the existing wide public support for her budget proposals.

“I'm happy to receive the support of people from all over the state of New York. I have the support for our budget from the leader of the NAACP, and clergy, from Buffalo to Long Island, labor leaders, environmentalists,” Hochul said. “We have a lot of support from many different sources for our budgets.”

Bloomberg, a Democrat who joined the Republican Party when he was mayor of New York, has drawn fire from progressive democrats for some of his views.

Michael Kink is with Strong Economy for All, which supports taxing the rich and is one of several groups and lawmakers calling for an end to the ads.

“The richest person in New York is trying to buy the state budget that's being negotiated here at the Capitol right now,” Kink said. “We're here to say that's wrong.”

Kink says Bloomberg in the past has backed some of Hochul’s other proposals that left wing democrats oppose, including creating more charter schools and limiting the growth of the minimum wage.

Hochul wants to index the current minimum wage, which is $15 an hour in New York City and in the fast-food industry, to inflation. Democrats in the Legislature say the wage needs to be increased first to make up for steep inflation that’s already occurred.

The campaign by American Opportunity also sent mailers to voters in key state Senate and Assembly districts, asking them to press their representatives to pass Hochul’s spending plan.

Sen. Robert Jackson, a progressive Democrat who represents parts of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, including Washington Heights, was one of those targeted.

Jackson says so far, the message is not resonating with the people he represents. He says he asked his staff to keep track of the response.

“‘How many phone calls are we getting? How many emails are we getting? How many people have come into the office and say that they support Kathy Hochul?’” Jackson said. “And the answer is very little.”

Hochul says she hasn’t seen the mailers.

It’s not the first time a governor has called on an outside group with connections to big money donors to help promote their agenda.

Hochul’s immediate predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was backed by the Committee to Save New York, a political action committee that raised over $12 million dollars to promote Cuomo’s agenda. It also took steps to obscure the identity of its backers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.