Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo go way back. They have both been big players on the New York political scene for years and it’s hardly a surprise that they share financial connections.
Early this month Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s rival in the Democratic primary race for governor, criticized him for accepting $64,000 in donations from Trump between 2001 and 2009.
“Governor Cuomo cannot serve as a defense against Donald Trump when he’s accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Donald Trump,” read Nixon’s Facebook ad.
In response, Cuomo said he would not return the donations. “I’m going to be deeply critical of him and keep the contributions,” he said. Cuomo spokesperson Abby Fashouer later called Nixon’s critique “a cheap distraction from a campaign gasping for air,” and added, “No governor has fought harder against Donald Trump than Gov. Cuomo.”
But Trump’s direct donations to Cuomo are only part of the story. An Indypendent analysis of Cuomo’s 2017-18 campaign donations shows a web of financial links to Trump-linked individuals and companies.
Andrew Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment on these donations.
Ukrainian-American billionaire Alexander Rovt is a major Cuomo donor. Since 2010, Rovt and his wife Olga have given $356,000 to Cuomo’s campaign. On Election Day, Rovt donated $10,000 to the Trump campaign. Most of it was returned to him because it exceeded the $2,700 limit.
Rovt made his fortune importing fertilizer from the Black Sea. His company, IBE Trade Corp., now owns 12 percent of the world’s ammonia supply. He is also a big player in the New York real estate world.
In 2014, Rovt put down $303 million in cash to buy a majority share in 14 Wall Street, a 29-story skyscraper opposite the New York Stock Exchange. The year before he had bought the Henry T. Sloane mansion on East 68th Street for $34 million, also in cash.
When former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort came under federal scrutiny as part of the Russia probe, Rovt was pulled into the spotlight. The New York Times reported that after stepping down from the campaign, Manafort took out a number of loans through a shell company.
One of these loans, for $3.5 million, came from the lending arm of Spruce Capital, a New York investment firm backed by Rovt. The co-founder of Spruce Capital, Joshua Crane, was involved in the failed luxury hotel project Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico, according to court filings.
One of Cuomo’s largest longtime donors is Kasowitz, Benson & Torres, a New York City law firm specializing in antitrust and patent litigation. They gave over $250,000 to Cuomo between 2010 and 2013. (David Friedman, a partner at the law firm, advised Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. Trump made him ambassador to Israel in March 2017.)
The firm was founded by Marc Kasowitz, a trial attorney who represented Donald Trump in numerous cases, including his first divorce, his casino bankruptcies, and suits brought against Trump University. Kasowitz donated $25,000 personally to Cuomo in 2011.
In May 2017, Trump brought Kasowitz on to act as his private counsel in matters related to the Russian election meddling probe. In July 2017, ProPublica reported that Kasowitz was struggling to get security clearance due to alcohol abuse and had bragged to friends about encouraging Trump to fire Preet Bharara. “This guy is going to get you,” he allegedly told Trump. Later that month, Kasowitz left Trump’s legal team.
Kasowitz’s troubles weren’t over. In October 2017, a joint WNYC-ProPublica investigation found that Kasowitz had represented Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., in 2012, when the Manhattan District Attorney was considering bringing a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of condos at Trump SoHo. That year, Kasowitz donated $25,000 to District Attorney Cy Vance.
According to ProPublica’s reporting, Vance said he returned the $25,000 to Kasowitz before meeting with him, which is standard procedure when a donor has business before the DA’s office.
Vance ruled against his own prosecutors and the case against the Trump children was dropped. Later that year, Kasowitz made another donation to Vance and helped raise money for his office, totaling $50,000.
After the story broke, Cy Vance announced he would return the donations from Kasowitz. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.
The Koch Brothers
When Cuomo first ran for governor in 2010 vowing to take on public sector unions, he received $87,000 in donations from libertarian billionaire David Koch and his wife, Julia. Along with his brother Charles, David Koch (the richest resident of New York City) is a major donor to the Republican party and has spent decades throwing hundreds of millions of dollars toward combating corporate taxation, social security spending, and environmental regulation.
Initially skeptical of Trump’s presidential campaign, the Koch network gave generously to Trump once Mike Pence was announced as VP. Trump also voiced suspicion of the Kochs during his campaign, but at least 35 Trump political appointees have been connected to the Kochs, from Mike Pompeo to Scott Pruitt to Kellyanne Conway.
Photo: David Koch. Credit: Gage Skidmore.