A Democratic fund-raiser says Cuomo has mastered Albany without changing it

Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders. (Governor Andrew Cuomo, via flickr)
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Days before the Times editorial board called on Andrew Cuomo to fulfill his campaign pledge to reform the state's campaign-finance laws, a stalwart local Democratic fund-raiser called on Cuomo to make doing so a priority. The fund-raiser, Bill Samuels, told me he thinks Cuomo accomplished a lot in his first year in office, but that Albany hasn't fundamentally changed under Cuomo from the way it was under his predecessors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.

"The contrast is total dysfunction to the old culture being mastered and run well," Samuels told me in a recent interview. "That doesn't mean there's been any reform. There hasn't been. And that's just a fact."

Samuels released a statement last week calling on Cuomo to reject all campaign donations from corporations, predicting that such a gesture would have a big impact nationally and that Cuomo could pull it off without harming his own fortunes.

"It wouldn't hurt him," Samuels said. "He's not rerunning till 2014."

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During the 2010 campaign for governor, Cuomo spoke in favor of reforming the state's campaign-finance rules, including lowering the amount of money a donor could give to a campaign. He never specified what contribution limit he preferred, saying he wanted to negotiate the specifics with lawmakers.

Samuels, who unfavorably compared Cuomo to Spitzer in the past, stressed that he wasn't criticizing Cuomo for campaigning under the state's current rules while talking about the need to change them. (Which is something that hasn't gone unnoticed.)

"He's inherited the old rules," Samuels told me. "You can't change them overnight. You have to play by them initially."

But, he said, "in parallel to playing by those rules, you can also reach out and talk up the new rules."