Top aides to Gov. Hochul offered boutique access and customer service to elite deep-pocketed donors keen on furthering their business interests in the state, a review of emails shows.
The 161 pages of emails show a vibrant buyer’s market for those willing to pony up for the governor’s reelection campaign. So far, Hochul has hauled in $34 million for her campaign, and is on pace to snag tens of millions more by election day.
In December 2021, Robert Trobe, a former deputy commissioner for the city’s Department of Family and Adult Services, was in deep discussions with Team Hochul about a campaign fundraiser he was organizing among non-profit organizations. Trobe now serves as vice president at Alliant Insurance Services.
“If we fix the minimum contribution at $250 and get an average per participant contribution of $300, I think we should be able to raise $30,000 to $50,000,” Trobe emailed Mackenzie Wasilick, finance chief of staff for Hochul’s campaign committee.
The trove of emails, whose content was first reported by the Albany Times Union, was obtained by The Post.
But Trobe wanted something in return: Hochul to come out in favor of a cost-of-living increase for state-contracted human services workers, who assist New Yorkers combating various forms of addiction.
“What is critical in the run-up to the primary is the Governor’s support for inclusion of COLA in the next budget. … We had a productive initial meeting with [Director of State Operations] Kathryn Garcia,” Trobe wrote. “If the COLA commitment from the Governor can be secured, it will be extremely helpful in promoting this [fundraiser].”
In her $216 billion budget released in January, Hochul made good, pledging $500 million for human services cost-of-living adjustments — something Gov. Cuomo had refused to do for every year of his tenure, The Albany Times Union reported.
Both Trobe and Garcia did not respond to requests for comment.
In February Trobe personally donated $1,000 to Hochul’s campaign. A virtual fundraiser with non-profit community leaders took place on April 18.
“The governor came for a few minutes and spoke to us. It was a 10-15 minutes thing. Took a couple of questions and left,” Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, a former deputy mayor for health and human services, who attended the fundraiser, told The Post.
The revelations come as Hochul faces controversy for allegedly helping a contributor tied to $300,000 in campaign donations get a $637 million contract from the state for rapid coronavirus tests — charging New Yorkers twice the price other vendors charged.
“In New York State bribery is basically legal. Donors make big contributions to candidates because they want something in return. And these emails show donors are getting special access, special treatment and special help from the governor’s staff,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group. “It’s probably legal and how Albany works, but it’s definitely unethical and wrong. The governor is supposed to serve the public interest, not the donor’s interests.”
Wayne Chaplin, who attended a different Hochul fundraiser near Rochester in October 2021, was similarly blunt about his needs.
The event was hosted by Rob Sands, chief executive officer of Constellation Brands, an alcoholic beverages producer and marketer and the largest beer importer in the United States.
The Brooklyn-born CEO of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirit was angling to find support for a bill that would “require alcoholic beverages imported into New York be first delivered to a licensed New York State wholesaler and maintained at a premises or warehouse operated by a wholesaler for a period of 24 hours.”
Southern Glazer, the nation’s largest wine and spirits distributor, would stand to make a killing, while critics say the law would make it more prohibitive for smaller distributors and raise costs on consumers.
“See below information that was discussed with the Governor in Rochester,” Chaplin wrote to Micah Lasher, Hochul’s director of policy in a Dec. 7, 2021 email. “I wanted to direct the attached to you as a follow up to that discussion as the Governor asked us to follow up with staff.” He sent along a two page explainer pumping the proposed law.
On the day of the fundraiser, five different LLCs — all of which shared the same address with Southern Glazer’s corporate offices in Miami — donated a total of $25,000. Campaign laws forbid any single company from donating more than $5,000 total in a year.
So far Hochul has not taken a public position on the booze issue. But in the background is her husband, William J. Hochul, who serves as general counsel and senior vice president to Delaware North, a Buffalo-based gambling and hospitality giant with wide interests in the alcohol trade as well.
Southern Glazer’s bill is currently bottled up in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee by its chairman State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Orange County).
“It’s a terrible bill. It’s bad public policy. What other product that consumers enjoy has to first make a pit stop before it gets to retail? The answer is none,” Skoufis told The Post. “Southern Glazer, they like to cajole, they like to try and bribe, they like to try and bully … It’s a very self-interested bill.”
Both Sands and Chaplin did not respond to requests for comment.
People close to former Gov. Cuomo said they were surprised by the blatant pay-to-play.
“That’s certainly not how we did fundraising or raised money,” said a former top aide. “It wasn’t appropriate to talk state business, and that was strongly, strongly discouraged.”
Reps for Gov. Hochul denied any implication of impropriety.
“As public servants, government staff receive communications from a wide range of New Yorkers on a daily basis. We welcome the views of different advocacy groups on policy issues, but every decision is made by the Governor and her team based on what is best for New Yorkers. No donation has any influence on any government decisions, and we strongly reject any implication otherwise,” said spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays.