New York

Cuomo, a master of the $50,000 fundraiser, bypasses small donors

'You almost have to try to have that few'
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.

At $25 million and counting, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sits atop the largest tower of campaign contributions of any Democratic politician in the United States, but this monument to his prodigious fundraising strength also reveals one of his greatest vulnerabilities, especially if he harbors presidential ambitions.

He has virtually no small donors.

Since the beginning of 2015, Cuomo has raised more than 99 percent of his campaign money from donations larger than $1,000 and nearly 99.9 percent of his funds from donors who gave at least $200, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Last year, Cuomo went six months without reporting an individual donor who gave less than $200.

“You almost have to try to have that few,” said Michael Whitney, who served as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ digital fundraising manager on his 2016 presidential campaign. He said that if Cuomo were to run for president and maintain his “comically absent number of small donors,” it could cripple him in an era where both parties, but particularly Democrats, have become reliant on an army of small givers at the national level.

For now, Cuomo insists he is only running for a third term as New York governor in 2018, his “dream job.”

Even if Cuomo ends his 2018 re-election with a sizable surplus, he cannot use his state account to fund a potential presidential campaign because funds are not transferable. But Cuomo’s vast network of large donors would be the envy of most politicians, and his patrons could always spend millions on an independent super PAC.

Nonetheless, the reliance on big checks makes Cuomo an outlier even among the best fundraisers in the country.

Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California and a leading Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, has $16 million. In the first six months of 2017, he had 34,096 donors who gave $200 or less, according to his campaign.

Newsom’s median donation during that period was $10; Cuomo’s was $2,500. Newsom raised more than $668,000 from such donors, compared to roughly $5,000 for Cuomo.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hillary Clinton’s campaign raised 18 percent of its funds from donations less than $200; Obama raised 32 percent of his funds from such donors in 2012. Sanders raised 87 percent, according to his campaign.

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