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With a month to go before Election Day, Cuomo far ahead of challengers in campaign cash



Candidates for statewide office were required this week to disclose how much money they have on hand for the final month of the 2018 election season. Once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking a third term, is far ahead of his challengers.

Cuomo has over $9 million still available to spend on broadcast television ads, social media hits and get-out-the-vote efforts, according to recent reports filed with the New York State Board of Elections. And he’s been spending liberally so far in the general election on spots that highlight his opposition to President Donald Trump.

“New York will be the lead to the resistance,” Cuomo says in the ad as a crowd cheers and music soars. “We are going to fight back.”

A large financial advantage helped Cuomo in the September Democratic primary, where he was challenged by actor Cynthia Nixon. Cuomo began the primary season with over $25 million, and he spent up to a half-million dollars a day in August and early September on ads on television and social media. Cuomo won by a 2-to-1 margin. 

The governor’s nearest challenger in the general election, Republican Marc Molinaro, has just over $200,000 left in the final weeks of the campaign.

Steve Greenberg, a political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polls, said that’s a real disadvantage for the GOP candidate. Greenberg said having money still matters.

“He has no money,” said Greenberg, who noted that just five weeks before Election Day, 56 percent of voters don’t know much about Molinaro.

“It takes money,” Greenberg said. “We are a big state with many media markets, including the most expensive (New York City) media market in the nation.”

Molinaro also is disadvantaged in a state that is heavily Democratic and has seen Republican Party membership decline over the past few decades.

At the same point in the 2014 race for governor, the Republicans’ candidate for governor, Rob Astorino, had $1 million more than Molinaro does now.

Molinaro’s campaign said his fundraising has been hampered because Cuomo is “threatening” potential donors to keep their wallets closed. They offer no proof of their allegations.

Cuomo’s campaign denied that. Campaign communications director Dani Lever said Molinaro is “having another bad day” and calls the charges “pathetic and desperate.” 

Large amounts of campaign cash can bring its own troubles, though. There can be an appearance of pay-to-play politics when companies give large amounts to an elected official and receive government grants or lucrative contracts.

Cuomo’s own administration has been rocked by corruption scandals involving large campaign donations from companies and the awarding of economic development grants. His former closest aide faces prison time for bribery, while other former associates were convicted of bid-rigging government contracts for favored donors.

Molinaro, despite his more limited resources, has produced ads highlighting the corruption scandals.

“Guilty, guilty, guilty,” a narrator intones as pictures of the convicted associates appear on the screen.

But because of money constraints, the ad has a limited reach. 

The other candidates in the race also haven’t raised much cash. Stephanie Miner, an independent candidate for governor, has just $55,000 in her account. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins has just over $31,000, and Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe has $24,000.

They are relying on news conferences, media interviews and mentions on social media to get their message out.

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.