ALBANY – Under mounting pressure, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reversed himself and said he will, after all, be giving away the remaining $60,000 in contributions his campaign received from Harvey Weinstein.
The statement coming from his campaign Thursday evening came as an about-face from what Cuomo himself declared just hours earlier:
That there was no money from Weinstein left to give away.
“We returned the money that Harvey donated to my gubernatorial campaign,’’ Cuomo said at first on Thursday, of the $50,000 that his 2018 re-election campaign got from Weinstein, the Hollywood figure who faces a growing number of complaints from women that he sexually abused or harassed them.
“Obviously, money he donated to past campaigns has been spent and has been gone,’’ Cuomo added.
Besides the fact that campaigns don’t segregate donations from individual donors, the Democratic governor hardly spent all the money he raised for his past campaigns. In December 2014, a month after winning a second term, Cuomo had $9.1 million left in his campaign account.
After seeing Democrat after Democrat over the past week donating to charity any contributions they’d gotten from Weinstein, Cuomo changed direction.
Basil Smikle, executive director of the state Democratic Party, released a statement Thursday evening saying that Cuomo is taking an “extraordinary step” of returning all contributions ever gotten from Weinstein “so that we can dispense with the Republican ploys and focus on the real issues.’’
Smikle defined one of those “real issues” as being whether Republicans will “accept the support of a president who himself disrespected, demeaned and harassed women?’’
Cuomo, who has known Weinstein for years and is thinking about a possible 2020 White House run, on Thursday morning at a stop on Long Island said the broader issues of sexual discrimination, assaults on women and protection of abortion rights need to be a “focus” and not just the “symbol” of returning campaign contributions from Weinstein.
“That’s what this issue is about. It’s bigger than Harvey Weinstein,’’ Cuomo said.
The situation became a political stumble for Cuomo, and presented Republicans with an easy means to attack him over the past several days.
“What kind of message does it send to women and victims that despite everything we know about the abuse Harvey Weinstein inflicted on them, he still won’t let go of his $60,000? His actions speak volumes,” said Jessica Proud, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, on Wednesday.
On Thursday night, Proud said it was unfortunate that “it took days of shaming him to do what was so clearly the right thing.”
“He will forever hold the title of being the last elected official in the country to hang onto his dirty donations,” Proud said of Cuomo.
Weinstein has been a major Democratic donor and fundraiser for years, counting among his political allies the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Since media accounts have surfaced of Weinstein’s alleged sexual wrongdoings, including allegations of rape and sexual harassment, politicians – including New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand – rushed to return donations their campaigns had gotten from him.
In his written statement on behalf of Cuomo, Smikle called the allegations against Weinstein “disturbing, horrid and the debate should be on the how to best root out this reprehensible behavior and protect women from harassment and abuse.’’
The donations Cuomo will give away to an unnamed charitable group date back to his campaigns for attorney general. In July, his campaign reported having $25.7 million.