EXCLUSIVE: At least seven companies that received a total of $15.25 million in grants from state Regional Economic Development Councils are linked to $1.25 million in donations to Cuomo’s campaign treasury since 2010, the records show.
ALBANY — Several companies run by big-time donors to Gov. Cuomo have won millions of dollars in state economic development grants since he took office, state records show.
At least seven companies that received a total of $15.25 million in grants from state Regional Economic Development Councils are linked to $1.25 million in donations to Cuomo’s campaign treasury since 2010, the records show.
One of those companies, Taylor Biomass LLC in Orange County, was awarded $1 million in 2013 to build a waste-to-energy facility.
Its president, James Taylor, gave Cuomo’s campaign more than $100,000 since 2010, including $34,000 this year, campaign finance records show. And the company and its affiliates gave Cuomo another $50,000, including $12,500 this year.
In another case, BFC Partners, of Brooklyn, won $3.5 million in 2013 to construct Empire Outlets, a planned development on Staten Island featuring 100 designer outlets and a posh hotel just steps from the ferry terminal.
BFC donated $25,000 to Cuomo’s campaign in 2014, the year following the grant. And three of the company’s partners, Donald Capoccia, Joseph Ferrara, and Brandon Baron, have ponied up a combined $81,500 since 2010.
Cuomo aides said the grants cited by the Daily News represent a fraction of the more than 2,600 projects awarded $2.2 billion in funding since2011 under the Regional Economic Development Council program.
The aides also said the governor’s office has no formal role in selecting who receives the awards. The projects, they pointed out, are recommended by the 10 regional councils, under a system Cuomo established in 2011 to create competition for the hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding distributed each year.
The Cuomo-controlled Empire State Development Corp. scores the recommendations and picks the winners, which Cuomo typically announces in a public ceremony.
Cuomo aides said the process is far better than the old “member item” system in which state legislators picked projects in their districts to fund, without much vetting. The aides also argued that some donors to the governor applied for project funding but did not receive grant money.
“To suggest any conflict or connection here is absurd as the recommendations for all of these projects are made by local community representatives,” said Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa.
Cuomo aides said several of the companies cited by The News, including Taylor Biomass, received state and federal funding for other projects in the past. Some of the grants, they said, funded projects that already were under way before Cuomo even became governor.
In one case cited by The News, a $2 million grant for the Dover Knolls Development, a plan to renovate an abandoned psychiatric hospital in Dutchess County, was withdrawn when the developer sold the project.
The company, its parent, Benjamin Millennium Group, and assorted affiliates contributed a combined $271,700 to Cuomo, and the company’s president at the time, Alvin Benjamin, gave $25,000 in 2011.
Bill Mahoney, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the awarding of grants tied to donors raises questions. “Businesses rarely contribute to candidates for purely altruistic reasons – in most cases, they’re hoping to help their bottom lines,” Mahoney said.
“If Gov. Cuomo had fulfilled his promises to overhaul the campaign finance system, perhaps there wouldn’t be concerns over decisions like these.”