Cuomo flunkies cross the line

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

A former Cuomo flak testified the other day that another of the governor’s minions attempted several years ago to dissuade donors from continuing their support of Investigative Post in retaliation for its reporting on corruption in the Buffalo Billion program.

“There was an effort made by people that Todd [Howe] knew that had donated to Investigative Post in the past, there was an effort to get them to stop doing that,” said David Doyle, a former spokesman for Alain Kaloyeros, the disgraced nanotech guru on trial along with three developers who just so happened to be major contributors to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign.

The testimony wasn’t surprising to me. Cuomo’s people – and Howe and the governor go way back, most recently as a plant in the economic development agency run by Kaloyeros – have been bad mouthing Investigative Post to our financial supporters for years. It’s part of the governor’s MO, which is rooted in ruthlessness and a pointed reminder that Donald Trump isn’t the only politician who is hostile to the press.

What’s noteworthy is that the testimony adds to a growing body of evidence about how powerful political players at the state and local level have tried — without success — to stifle, if not silence, Investigative Post.

Just a couple of weeks ago, The Buffalo News reported that the Erie County Water Authority hired a high-priced law firm to investigative possible legal action against us in response to a story we did that questioned the authority’s water testing practices.

The authority, according to records obtained by The News, “hired the Phillips Lytle law firm at a rate of $400 to $435 an hour to investigate ‘improper conduct by Investigative Post,’ ” after one of our reporters tried to pin down authority commissioners to get answers. (How dare a reporter ask questions!)

Heaney discusses corruption trial on Capitol Pressroom

All this was in response to a story we published in November 2016 that documented how the water authority was cutting corners in its testing program to detect for lead in the drinking water. The authority not only retained Phillips Lytle at a cost to the public of at least $23,000, but launched a disinformation campaign. Both efforts fell flat.

Like the folks at the water authority, officials in the Cuomo administration blew a gasket over our coverage of the Buffalo Billion program and did their best to thwart our reporting. We gave them plenty to get upset about, first exposing in December 2014 the funny business involving the request for proposals seeking a developer for the SolarCity factory and documenting the many ways the administration thwarted transparency involving the $750 million project. (That report subsequently triggered criminal investigations by federal and state authorities.)

Kaloyeros at one point sent me an email explaining he was not providing information requested under the FOI Law because he does not “respond to perceived threats and terrorism.” Days after the story ran, his lawyer sent me an FOI request — on Christmas Eve — demanding a list of our donors, which I laughed off, considering we’re not subject to the FOI Law and post the names of our major donors online.

We eventually sued to get records that Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government told us we had a right to under the FOI Law. The state responded by playing hardball with our lawyers in ways that had nothing to do with the lawsuit. We persisted and the Kaloyeros crew turned over the records without a fight.

In all, Investigative Post has produced some 60 stories on the Buffalo Billion, many of them hard-hitting investigations, and almost always in concert with our partners at WGRZ.

We documented early on how SolarCity was tanking financially. How LPCiminelli had gotten a second Buffalo Billion contract under questionable circumstances. How out-of-town companies were accepting state grants and then fleeing the area. How LPCiminelli executives were allowed to bill state taxpayers for their expensive dinners and other costly perks. How IBM has failed to deliver the good-paying jobs that were promised at its office downtown, paid for with public money. Etc.

I get why Cuomo and Co. don’t like us. They’re trying to snow the public as to how they’re spending taxpayer dollars and the impact it is having and we’re not letting them get away with it. Or, as the judge presiding over the ongoing corruption trial said the other day, we are “doing what a good reporter should do.”

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The governor’s bureaucrats can complain all they want in private, as testimony shows they have, but when they attempt to target our donors, they cross a line. Fortunately, they’ve been as competent at that as they have at managing the Buffalo Billion.

Investigative Post is a nonprofit and our donations have steadily increased every year since we began publishing. Donors understand the value of what we do and have responded accordingly. (I’m hoping news of the administration’s tactics prompts an uptick in donations. Hint, hint.)

One long-standing donor emailed me Thursday with this message: “Thank you for reading the BB RFP and pointing out the ‘50 years’ requirement. There would be no trial if not for your investigative work. Keep shining a light on news that matters!”

We intend on doing just that.