Golisano Makes it Official: He's Throwing $5 Million Into This Fall's Elections

Rochester billionaire and three-time gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano waved a $5 million check in front of reporters in Albany this morning and said he was forming a political action committee – “Responsible New York” – that he promised would help liberate lawmakers from the grip of party leaders.

Golisano has yet to endorse any legislative candidates, but his PAC will work on behalf of those who share his vision of reform. So far, he said, he has met with three Democrats running for the state Senate against incumbent Republicans. When asked about the G.O.P.’s slim control of that chamber, Golisano, who is still a registered Republican, said, “It has not been successful,” and he later wondered aloud why anybone would register with a political party. (“To vote in primaries,” a political reporter suggested, but Golisano didn’t seem to notice this.)

Dressed in a white shirt with no tie and an open collar, Golisano said his goal is to unleash the potential of well-meaning lawmakers who are corrupted by Albany’s style of politics.

"Speakers tell you what to do and when to do it," he said.

Referring to rank and file lawmakers, the businessman declared: “They totally give up their independence. What do they become? They become pawns of pork barreling. And what I mean by that is the only measure of their accomplishments is how much they can bring back to their district in the form of pork barreling.

“Can you imagine working hard to get elected, spending your own personal money, raising money, going door to door with the idea, the dream, that you’re going to go to Albany and change something?”

Still, Golisano declined to say whether he’d support either of the two Democrats running against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"I don’t even know who they are," he said.

According to Golisano, Responsible New York’s has eight reform objectives are: keeping the state budget below the rate of inflation; ending unfunded mandates; reforming property taxes; changing campaign and election laws; reducing public employees’ compensation packages; redistributing economic development aid; increasing government transparency; and ending “back door borrowing.”

Instead of contributing directly to candidates, the PAC will make independent expenditures in races to support its preferred candidates. Golisano did not answer questions about contribution limits he and his PAC may face under the state’s election law and instead referred such questions to his election lawyer, Henry Berger, who did not return a message left at his Manhattan office.

He also said he would also seek the public’s involvement, and would create a second PAC where they could contribute up to $100 to support the agenda.

Toward the end of his press conference, I asked Golisano what he has done since 2006 – when he contemplated running for Governor again – to advance his agenda.

"Mainly enjoying my frustrations," he said to some laughter. “How frustrating is it to see what happened to our Governor, happen to our state comptroller, to be called the most dysfunctional state in the country? I mean, don’t we have any pride left in this place? We’re acting like we don’t.”