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How rich: Tom Golisano intends to make his influence known.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

The Billionaire Is Back

Three-time gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano announces a new committee aiming to bring responsibility to state politics


‘How we doin’?” Buffalo busi nessman Tom Golisano asked a roomful of reporters Tuesday in Albany. It was a rhetorical question. He knew exactly how “we” were doing: New York state is in worse fiscal shape now then it was two years ago, the last time Golisano had been in the capital city in an “official capacity.”

“Our comptroller’s resigned. We got Troopergate, we got FBI probes. We got Eliot Spitzer—no comment,” he said, reciting a list of scandals that are quite familiar to anyone in the Capital Region, ending with a cagey reference to his own aborted attempt to challenge the once wildly popular attorney general Eliot Spitzer. “And we have the Brennan report telling us how dysfunctional our government is. . . . State budget growth continues to be twice the rate of inflation, [with] almost zero population growth.”

He was only warming up.

State debt continues to grow as New Yorkers continue to be the highest per- capita taxed population in the nation, Golisano said. The young are voting with their feet, fleeing the state. Outside of New York City, there is a marked “brain drain.” The real-estate taxes are “absurd,” he said, and the proposed tax cap is akin to “someone putting a knife in your stomach, and saying, ‘We’re not going to put it in any further.’ ” The elderly can’t afford their homes, he continued. Unfunded mandates are covered by the strapped counties. And neither of the election-year promises of campaign-finance reform or election reform have gained any traction.

The three-time gubernatorial candidate was in town to unveil his latest scheme to influence the state political machine, and to unveil Responsible New York, his new independent political action committee that he will use to try to sway the outcome of November elections. He showed off a $5 million check to the photographers and reporters from downstate, Albany, and Buffalo. This money will be the initial funding for the PAC.

Except it isn’t exactly a PAC in the typical sense. It’s an independent expenditure committee, and, therefore, not governed by the same laws as a PAC. It will not be sending contributions to any candidate, nor will it be coordinating with any campaign, which is key. It will be spending money on its own to express its particular views on specific state races, and will be free to spend however much it wants on any race.

Yet, this odd legal entity has raised some questions as to the scope of the committee’s ability to support candidates.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, told The New York Times that he suspected the committee might be more restricted in what it can say in advertisements than Golisano suggested. Horner didn’t deny that the law seemed to allow for Golisano’s unique committee, but noted the irony that “incumbent legislators who accepted the status quo could face a challenge through one of the loopholes they refused to close.”

Golisano is unfazed by the legal questions surrounding RNY—his team has thoroughly vetted the committee structure and intentions with the state Board of Elections, and with his own lawyers, he said.

The platform of RNY will be straightforward, he said: responsible state budgeting, with a responsible process, keeping expenses under control. Plus, for those of us in upstate, the equitable distribution of economic-development resources. He will send questionnaires to the candidates for state office. How they answer will determine whether or not RNY will put its support behind them. And it won’t be for just one party, or one region.

Democrats appear to view this as a boon, and were quick to laud the move. “Erick Mullen, a political consultant for two Democratic congressional candidates,” wrote the Times, said that Mr. Golisano’s reentry into politics would “‘redefine kingmaker in the Empire State.’”

Golisano, however, was very adamant in his claim that he has made no decision yet who he will be supporting, specifically stating that he would not be targeting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D- Manhattan).

“Can you imagine,” he began his portrait of the lowly legislator in a corrupt system, having worked hard, in most cases, investing your own money and time into the dream of representing your district in Albany, just to get here and be crushed under the feet of lobbyists and the Senate or Assembly leader? Then if they act in defiance of the leader, they get broom closets for offices, a reduced staff, and no hope for campaign money. They become pawns, only kept in office by the large sums of money they can bring back to their district, which is related to how directly they are connected to the speaker.

Golisano said that he considers running for governor “every day” but will, for the time being, just focus on offering these beleaguered state legislators an opportunity to escape the pressures of this system.

“To this point, there has been no opposing force” to the special interests at the Capitol, he said, “that has the initiative and the power, the financial health, to offset . . . the problems in Albany that never get fixed.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Brides in Space

Japanese company First Advantage and United States-based space tourism company Rocketplane Global have announced that they will be offering weddings in space for about $2.3 million. Most of the ceremony will take place on the ground, said First Advantage’s Taro Katsura, allowing couples to exchange vows while in space. The four-seat, two-engine “spaceship,” which is being developed by Rocketplane Global, will take the couple, along with three guests, a priest, and two witnesses, 60 miles into space, where they will spend only a few minutes in zero gravity during the hourlong flight. Where does the company expect to find people with the means to host a multimillion-dollar wedding? Most of the customers will be from China or the Arab Gulf region, Katsura predicted.

Who Wants Another Cold War?

Russia has threatened to retaliate with force if the United States carries through with a deal it formed with the Czech Republic to place a missile defense system within Czech borders. According to the Times Online, authorities in Russia “regard the proposed missile shield as a hostile move,” saying that it would “severely undermine the balance of European security.” Washington says the missile defense system will not be used against Russia, according to the Times Online. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued that the defense system will not only help the United States and the Czech Republic, but it will be “significant as a building block . . . for the security of [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and the security of the international community as a whole.”

Hitler Loses His Head

On opening day of the new Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds, an anti-Nazi protester charged his way into the museum, pushing past a security guard and, proclaiming “Never war again,” ripped the head off a waxwork statue of Adolf Hitler, according to Reuters. The figure had taken 25 workers and four months to complete, and was housed in a mock bunker that represented where the doomed Nazi dictator spent the last few days of his life. The assailant has been charged with destruction of property and assault. Hitler’s head has been repaired, and the museum plans to reattach it.

New Universal

National organization pushes for affordable health care for all Americans

In 1994, the famous “Harry and Louise” commercials helped sink Sen. Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan. The TV spots that featured a middle-class couple fretting over the bureaucracy created by Clinton’s proposed health-care plan was sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America. But now, a coalition of national groups including unions, liberal activists, and health-care organizations called Health Care for America Now hope their ad campaign, launched last week, will instead bolster a movement in America to create a working health-care system for all Americans.

While HCAN wants the effect of their message to be positive, it does not mean their message is without teeth. National spokeswoman Jacki Schechner told The New York Times last week that the message of the commercial is that “you can’t trust the insurance industry to fix the health-care mess.”

On Tuesday, local HCAN supporters led by Citizen Action rallied at the Capitol to announce the local kick-off to HCAN’s campaign. The group is made up of a number of unions, including American Federation of Teachers and SEIU, and health-care organizations, including the Planned Parenthood Organization of America.

Citizen Action New York co-executive director Karen Scharff said that she feels the time has come to create a functioning health-care system in the United States and that she sees more and more citizens and small businesses coming to the same conclusion.

Scharff said that local efforts will include a great deal of lobbying. “Here in New York state and in communities all across the country, we’re asking one question, ‘Which side are you on?’ Are you on the side of quality, affordable health care? Or are you on the side of being left alone to fend for yourself in a complicated, bureaucratic insurance market?”

HCAN plans a public registry to display where representatives stand on the issue. “It’s time for Congress to tell us which side they are on,” said Scharff.

The coalition’s most well-known spokesperson is Elizabeth Edwards, who has had a very public battle with cancer. The wife of two-time presidential candidate John Edwards recently said of HCAN’s mission: “Millions of Americans are sitting around their kitchen table at night, wondering why it is so difficult to afford the basics these days—especially health care. They come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: They know our health-care system is broken, and they want a fair, common-sense solution that makes quality coverage affordable for everyone.”

So far HCAN, whose national campaign director is Citizen Action New York co-executive director Richard Kirsch, has spent $1.5 million on national advertising and plans to spend $25 million in the months leading up to the election. HCAN is made up of more than 95 groups nationally and plans to use the contacts and communication networks and lobbying mechanisms the groups have in place to move the discussion about universal health care forward in their areas. Scharff said that the coalition intends to get politicians away from solutions and reforms that rely on existing insurance companies.

“We cannot trust so-called reform proposals that rely more on private insurance, that tax our health benefits at work and force us to get health insurance on our own, proposals that give us a tax credit that pays for a fraction of actual health-care costs, and proposals that don’t regulate health-insurance practices, premiums, or profits,” said Scharff. “We need health-care reform that works for us.”

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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