Faso Near A Pivotal Moment
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The Republican candidate for governor, John Faso, will face a pivotal moment in less than two weeks when he lifts the lid on his campaign war chest and discloses his fund-raising totals.
On July 15, statewide and legislative candidates are required to submit their fund-raising and expenditures reports to the state Board of Elections. The filing – the first mandatory one since January – will provide the strongest measure to date of the viability of Mr. Faso’s campaign.
As the gubernatorial race heads into the final four months, the big question hanging over Mr. Faso’s campaign is whether the candidate will be able to raise enough money to mount a competitive challenge against the Democratic front-runner, Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer gained a national reputation as New York’s attorney general and, in January, had raised $19 million to Mr. Faso’s $1 million.
Candidates in the past have won despite facing stiff fund-raising disadvantages. Mario Cuomo was elected governor of New York in 1982 despite being outspent by Republican Lewis Lehrman, $13.5 million to $5 million. Mr. Faso, a former assemblyman, is relatively unknown among voters, despite winning more than 1.5 million votes for state comptroller in 2002. Without a critical mass of campaign money, he may have trouble increasing his name recognition or countering Mr. Spitzer’s ongoing run of television ads.
For Mr. Faso, the fund raising is an undertaking that rests almost completely on his shoulders.
The Republican Party’s biggest players, including Governor Pataki, the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, and the state party chairman, Stephen Minarik, are playing a minor role in Mr. Faso’s fund-raising efforts. Mr. Faso’s erstwhile opponent, William Weld, who offered to help Mr. Faso raise money after he dropped out, has yet to transfer any leftover campaign money to Mr. Faso’s account, a former campaign aide said. And Republican Buffalo billionaire Thomas Golisano is leaning toward supporting Mr. Spitzer, according to a source.
The Faso camp declines to talk numbers, but those in the business of raising money expect the campaign to have on hand between $3 and $5 million by next week’s deadline. Mr. Faso isn’t expected to come close to matching Spitzer’s total, which could range between $30 million and $40 million. Mr. Faso raised more than $7 million when he ran for comptroller in 2002 and narrowly lost to Democrat Alan Hevesi.
Hitting the high end would put Mr. Faso on track to amassing the $15 and $20 million that fund-raisers and political strategists say is needed to saturate the New York television market in the last weeks of the campaign. A weaker showing could put Mr. Faso in danger of trailing Mr. Spitzer in fundraising by a 10 to 1 margin – a gap so daunting it could deter other donors from giving.
The four weeks since the Republican convention, where Mr. Faso achieved a come-from-behind victory against Mr. Weld, have been a crucial period for the candidate. Working furiously behind the scenes, Mr. Faso has been trying to line up potential givers who were hesitant to write checks until the party united behind one candidate.
His operation has been focused on the New York City business community and wealthy conservative donors who are ideologically aligned with his positions in favor of school choice and lower taxes.
He has been making his case with a rapid series of small cocktail and dinner gatherings with well-known Republicans, including CNBC television host and New York Sun columnist Lawrence Kudlow and former Lower Manhattan Development Corp. chairman John Whitehead, who has agreed to co-host a fund-raiser with Henry Kissinger, according to a source close to the Faso campaign.
Thursday, Mr. Faso dined at Mr. Kudlow’s apartment with several friends of the television host, including Lewis Eisenberg, a Republican fund-raiser who is a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and David Malpass, chief economist for Bear Stearns. Mr. Kudlow said Mr. Faso made it “very clear he’s a determined guy,” and said Mr. Faso said he would be considering a “bolder tax policy.”
Last week at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, Mr. Faso made his pitch to a private gathering of 50 entrepreneurs, corporate lawyers, money managers, real estate investors, and other business types. “We have a plan for the economy,” the candidate said. “We have a record and Eliot Spitzer is going to raise taxes because he’s made billions of promises for new spending which he can only keep by raising taxes.”
In an interview with The New York Sun, Mr. Faso said his fundraising strategy rests on communicating his economic message with the broader public. “It’s not based upon getting the support from one or two people,” he said. “It’s based on the strength of our ideas for how New York has to become competitive in the future.”
Unlike Governor Pataki, whose 1994 campaign against Governor Cuomo relied heavily on the fundraising apparatus of Senator D’Amato and the political arm-twisting of the state party’s chairman at the time, William Powers, Mr. Faso is running without a major political or financial patron.
People close to the campaign say Mr. Faso is conducting his fund-raising operation without any significant assistance of the party’s top officials, who are preoccupied with their own political objectives.
Mr. Pataki, who is focused on raising money to lay the groundwork for a possible presidential bid, has yet to host a fund-raiser with Mr. Faso or a sign a fund-raising letter to prospective donors. The governor hosted a fund-raiser for Republican attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro, Westchester County’s district attorney, at the 21 Club in Manhattan last month.
A day after The New York Sun inquired about Mr. Pataki’s support for Mr. Faso’s campaign, the governor last Thursday gave Mr. Faso $33,900 – the maximum amount allowed by law – from his 21st Century Freedom PAC. He also gave that amount to Ms. Pirro and the Republican candidate for comptroller, J. Christopher Callaghan.
A spokesman for Mr. Pataki, David Catalfamo, said the governor has “indicated that he would be more than happy to headline an event for John.”
In the place of Mr. Powers, who helped craft the strategy that got Mr. Pataki elected, is the current chairman, Mr. Minarik, who had endorsed Mr. Weld and cast doubt on Mr. Faso’s chances before backing Mr. Faso after he won support from a majority of delegates at the Republican convention. Mr. Minarik has yet to host or schedule a fund-raiser for Mr. Faso or sign a fund-raising letter on his behalf.
The executive director of the Republican state party, Ryan Moses, said the committee was focused less on raising money for a particular candidate and more on putting together more general “victory operation” activities, such as get-out-the vote efforts in November.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual to raise money,” Mr. Moses said, while adding, “We’re committed to helping John any way possible”.
The view was shared by the chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., Charles Gargano, who worked as Mr. Pataki’s finance chairman in 1994 after serving as the state Republican Party’s finance chairman. Mr. Gargano said of Mr. Faso, “He has to rely on his own candidacy, and that is almost always the case anyway.”
Also largely out of sight in the Faso campaign is Mr. Bruno, the Senate majority leader. A spokesman for Mr. Bruno said it isn’t traditionally the role of the majority leader to raise money for Republican gubernatorial candidates. Mr. Bruno’s most immediate concern is to assist the campaigns of Republican senators to preserve the party’s slim majority in the Senate.
“I’m not aware that we have anything scheduled with Faso,” said a spokesman for Mr. Bruno, John McArdle. “We have our own races to be concerned about. That’s our focus. We’re not state committee.”