This article was published in partnership with THE CITY.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign has finally gotten serious about following a 2019 law meant to crack down on corporate dark money in New York elections, campaign filings show. She made required disclosures identifying her recent donors — and pledged not to spend money received from past donors whose identities she hasn’t yet tracked down.
Those filings show leaders in the nursing home industry were among the most prolific donors through limited liability companies, or LLCs, even as Hochul vows to investigate how thousands died of COVID contracted in nursing homes.
In February, New York Focus revealed that Hochul was flouting the law, which mandates that New York candidates publish a list of the individuals behind LLC donations to their campaign, based on their ownership stakes.
In her January campaign finance filing, covering the previous six months of contributions, Hochul failed to disclose the individuals behind over 130 of her roughly 170 donations from LLCs. That added up to over $400,000 of dark money fueling her effort to win a full term.
But her most recent campaign finance report showed dramatically improved compliance. Late last month, Hochul submitted a campaign filing that listed the individuals behind all but one of the 149 LLCs that have donated to her campaign since mid-January. The LLCs’ contributions added up to more than $661,000. (A Hochul spokesperson said the campaign is working to get the necessary information for the final donation.)
Among the donations revealed by the disclosures is over $78,000 attributed to more than ten individuals associated with the nursing home empire Centers Health Care, including nearly $50,000 attributed to Kenneth Rozenberg, the company’s CEO, and nearly $15,000 attributed to Daryl Hagler, a real estate professional closely associated with the company.
None of those individuals have donated personally to Hochul, meaning that their link to Hochul would not have been publicly visible were it not for the governor’s compliance with the LLC law.
The donations complied with the $5,000 cap on LLC contributions and the individual limit of $69,700 for the governor’s race.
Nursing homes run by Centers Health Care have been accused of neglecting patients and have sued the state in an attempt to stop the implementation of a new law increasing staffing requirements for nursing homes. That suit is still pending in court.
Centers Health Care, which declined to comment for this story, also has more than 47,000 chronically ill or disabled individuals enrolled in managed long-term care health plans through New York’s Medicaid program, nearly 20% of the state’s total enrollment. During this year’s state budget process, Hochul proposed reducing the number of managed care plans operating in the state and requiring plans to bid for new state contracts. Opposition from the legislature killed the proposal, but the high price tag New York pays for the coverage could prompt future attempts to cut costs.
Hochul’s disclosures also show tens of thousands of dollars from real estate developers, including $10,000 attributed to Josef Goodman and over $6,600 attributed to Joel Teitelbaum.
Hochul also collected over $12,300 of LLC cash attributed to Chelsea Hotel owners Ira Drukier and Richard Born. Drukier and Born steered nearly $60,000 to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign and political action committees while seeking a key construction permit for the hotel from his administration, THE CITY reported in 2019.
A Pledge Not to Spend Anonymous Cash
While Hochul has improved on obeying disclosure laws, her rivals can’t say as much. Long Island’s Rep. Tom Suozzi received over 65 LLC donations, but disclosed the individuals behind fewer than 25 of them. (His campaign’s report noted that it had requested the required information.) The other major candidates — Jumaane Williams, Rob Astorino and Lee Zeldin — received fewer than 10 LLC donations each, and each failed to disclose the identities of some or all of those donors.
Suozzi, Williams, Astorino, and Zeldin did not respond to requests for comment.
While her compliance with the law improved in her most recent campaign finance report, Hochul has not made the required disclosures from donations prior to mid-January 2022. Asked about New York Focus’ investigation by then-City & State reporter Zach Williams in February, Hochul said her campaign was seeking that information.
“This is something that we are focusing on: trying to get all that data collected from the LLCs,” Hochul said. “We will continue to follow the letter of the law and make sure that every bit of information that is required to be reported is reported.”
But of the over 130 anonymous LLC donations in the January report, just one had been updated with required information as of Monday.
It’s common practice for campaigns to update their filings to correct mistakes or add improperly omitted information after the fact. Suozzi did so with several LLC donations, disclosing the individuals behind them in a March update to his original January report. Several LLC contributions in Suozzi’s report still remained anonymous, however.
The Hochul spokesperson said that the campaign is still working on updating the January report with the required disclosures, but did not say whether that would happen before the gubernatorial primary on June 28. The spokesperson did, however, pledge not to spend the anonymous cash.
“The campaign continues to uphold high ethical standards in its fundraising and will not spend unattributed LLC filings until we receive proper documentation from the entities,” campaign spokesperson Jen Goodman said.
Hochul isn’t the only government official to pay increased attention to laws governing LLCs in recent months. In the wake of New York Focus’ reporting on the Board of Elections’ failure to enforce the law, the board sent letters to LLCs that had not identified their owners instructing them to comply with the law. Thousands of companies responded by filing the required disclosures, bringing the proportion of LLCs in compliance with the law to about 75%, up from just 20% in January.