Cuomo changes course; now will give away all We­in­stein do­na­tions

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Tom Pre­cious NEWS AL­BANY BU­REAU CHIEF

AL­BANY – Un­der mount­ing pres­sure, Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo re­versed him­self and said he will, af­ter all, be giv­ing away the re­main­ing $60,000 in con­tri­bu­tions his cam­paign re­ceived from Har­vey We­in­stein.

The state­ment com­ing from his cam­paign Thurs­day evening came as an about-face from what Cuomo him­self de­clared just hours ear­lier:

That there was no money from We­in­stein left to give away.

“We re­turned the money that Har­vey do­nated to my gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign,’’ Cuomo said at first on Thurs­day, of the $50,000 that his 2018 re-elec­tion cam­paign got from We­in­stein, the Hol­ly­wood fig­ure who faces a grow­ing num­ber of com­plaints from women that he sex­u­ally abused or ha­rassed them.

“Ob­vi­ously, money he do­nated to past cam­paigns has been spent and has been gone,’’ Cuomo added.

Be­sides the fact that cam­paigns don’t seg­re­gate do­na­tions from in­di­vid­ual donors, the Demo­cratic gover­nor hardly spent all the money he raised for his past cam­paigns. In De­cem­ber 2014, a month af­ter win­ning a sec­ond term, Cuomo had $9.1 mil­lion left in his cam­paign ac­count.

Af­ter see­ing Demo­crat af­ter Demo­crat over the past week do­nat­ing to char­ity any con­tri­bu­tions they’d got­ten from We­in­stein, Cuomo changed di­rec­tion.

Basil Smikle, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the state Demo­cratic Party, re­leased a state­ment Thurs­day evening say­ing that Cuomo is tak­ing an “ex­tra­or­di­nary step” of re­turn­ing all con­tri­bu­tions ever got­ten from We­in­stein “so that we can dis­pense with the Re­pub­li­can ploys and fo­cus on the real is­sues.’’

Smikle de­fined one of those “real is­sues” as be­ing whether Repub­li­cans will “ac­cept the sup­port of a pres­i­dent who him­self dis­re­spected, de­meaned and ha­rassed women?’’

Cuomo, who has known We­in­stein for years and is think­ing about a pos­si­ble 2020 White House run, on Thurs­day morn­ing at a stop on Long Is­land said the broader is­sues of sex­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion, as­saults on women and pro­tec­tion of abor­tion rights need to be a “fo­cus” and not just the “sym­bol” of re­turn­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from We­in­stein.

“That’s what this is­sue is about. It’s big­ger than Har­vey We­in­stein,’’ Cuomo said.

The sit­u­a­tion be­came a po­lit­i­cal stum­ble for Cuomo, and pre­sented Repub­li­cans with an easy means to at­tack him over the past sev­eral days.

“What kind of mes­sage does it send to women and vic­tims that de­spite ev­ery­thing we know about the abuse Har­vey We­in­stein in­flicted on them, he still won’t let go of his $60,000? His ac­tions speak vol­umes,’’ said Jes­sica Proud, spokes­woman for the state Re­pub­li­can Party, on Wed­nes­day.

On Thurs­day night, Proud said it was un­for­tu­nate that “it took days of sham­ing him to do what was so clearly the right thing.’’

“He will for­ever hold the ti­tle of be­ing the last elected of­fi­cial in the coun­try to hang onto his dirty do­na­tions,’’ Proud said of Cuomo.

We­in­stein has been a ma­jor Demo­cratic donor and fundraiser for years, count­ing among his po­lit­i­cal al­lies the likes of Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton and Barack Obama. Since me­dia ac­counts have sur­faced of We­in­stein’s al­leged sex­ual wrong­do­ings, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions of rape and sex­ual ha­rass­ment, politi­cians – in­clud­ing New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gil­li­brand – rushed to re­turn do­na­tions their cam­paigns had got­ten from him.

In his writ­ten state­ment on be­half of Cuomo, Smikle called the al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein “dis­turb­ing, hor­rid and the de­bate should be on how to best root out this rep­re­hen­si­ble be­hav­ior and pro­tect women from ha­rass­ment and abuse.’’

The do­na­tions Cuomo will give away to an un­named char­i­ta­ble group date back to his cam­paigns for at­tor­ney gen­eral.

In July, his cam­paign re­ported hav­ing $25.7 mil­lion.

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