By: Serach Nissim
Critics are eyeing donations to the campaign funds of NYS governor Kathy Hochul and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which are linked to a company awarded hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state contracts for Medicaid transportation over the years.
As reported by the NY Post, the firm, Medical Answering Services was awarded eight contracts worth a whopping $403.7 million by the state Health Department from 2011 through 2018. Four of the contracts don’t expire till next year. The eight contracts range from $15 million to $120 million to provide transportation to Medicaid recipients throughout the state, records with the comptroller’s office show. The company was founded in 2004 by president Russ Maxwell. Records reveal that Mr. Maxwell and his spouse, Morgan McDole, contributed $236,000 into Cuomo’s campaign funds over those years. The couple also shelled out a combined total of over $100,000 into Gov. Hochul’s lieutenant governor and governor campaign coffers and into the Democratic Committee.
Critics say the donations reflect a classic example of Albany’s pay-to-play culture which lets bidders and contractors contribute significantly to the campaigns of governor whose agencies oversee the contracts. In contrast, New York City has a law limiting contributions to the mayor to just $400 from bidders and contractors or individuals who do business with the city. The city mayor would face fines if he doesn’t return contributions from related parties that are more than $400. “It’s a perfect example that shows how lax state campaign finance laws are,” said John Kaehny, director of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany. “It looks like pay to play. It destroys public trust in government. New York City government is way head of the state on this.”
Among the donations tallied, Maxwell donated $32,100 to Hochul since 2018 and $176,000 to Cuomo during his reign. McDole donated $60,000 to Cuomo and gave three contributions totaling $52,600 to Hochul this past year. A representative for Maxwell replied to say that the contractor and his spouse’s donations were not related to the contracts awarded to the firm. “Russ Maxwell has been involved in state and local politics for more than 30 years, including a run for State Assembly in 1992. He’s supported many candidates and political causes over the years,” said Maxwell spokesman Patrick McCarthy. He added that the company helped the state achieve savings and efficiencies in transporting patients.
Gov. Hochul’s campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey commented saying, “Consistent with Governor Hochul’s commitment to maintain high ethical standards, campaign contributions have no influence on government decisions”. Cuomo’s spokesman Richard Azzopardi also shrugged off the criticism, saying “Can’t speak to how things are currently, but contracting was always done on the agency level – period. The two unmovable rules in Albany are that critics like to criticize and love reading their names in the paper.”
The Health Department said Maxwell’s firm was awarded contracts based on merit following a competitive bidding, without involvement from the governor’s office. It added that Medical Answering Services was awarded another contract in the 2020-21 budget after another request for proposals was submitted in compliance with state law.