ALBANY — In the wake of widening revelations of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein, a roster of the nation’s biggest Democrats immediately pledged to return campaign contributions or donate them to charity.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — who has received more than $110,000 from Weinstein and his company — had initially decided not to return all of Weinstein’s donations to his campaigns over the years. Rather, he had pledged to donate only the $50,000 given to his gubernatorial campaigns, promising that amount to an unnamed women’s advocacy group.
But under increasing pressure from Republicans and his own Democratic colleagues, Cuomo reversed course Thursday, as an avalanche of new allegations engulfed Weinstein.
Cuomo’s campaign said in a somewhat combative statement that it would take “the extraordinary step” of giving back all contributions from previous campaigns.
Basil A. Smikle Jr., executive director of the state Democratic Party, who issued the statement on behalf of the governor’s campaign, said such a move was necessary to “dispense with the Republican ploys and focus on the real issues.”
“The allegations against Harvey Weinstein are disturbing, horrid and the debate should be on how to best root out this reprehensible behavior and protect women from harassment and abuse,” Smikle said. The statement from Smikle — not Cuomo himself — was a marked about-face from Cuomo’s earlier remarks to reporters that the donations had already been spent. Cuomo had then scolded fellow politicians for not acting on major women’s issues like reproductive rights, discrimination, and “respect for women.”
Cuomo, who faces a re-election campaign for a third term next year, had said returning campaign donations was a symbolic gesture, but that the overall issue was “bigger than Harvey Weinstein.”
“I have three daughters,” he said. “I want to make sure at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters.”
According to the Republican National Committee, Cuomo had been the last Democrat of national stature — he is a purported contender for the party’s 2020 nomination, an ambition he denies — to not return or donate all of the money handed out by Weinstein.
The governor’s decision to return the donations come amid news of criminal investigations in New York City and London into Weinstein’s alleged actions, which reports said have included rape and serial harassment of actresses and other women.
And despite Cuomo and Smikle’s protestations of a Republican plot, calls to return political contributions from Weinstein had become a nonpartisan movement: On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, said that “no one in their right mind should be keeping contributions from Harvey Weinstein.”
“My message to everyone who has current accounts with money from Harvey Weinstein is, ‘Give that money back,'” the mayor added. “Give it to charity. Get the hell away from it.”