Disclosures filed with the state Board of Elections and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics show that General Motors stepped up campaign contributions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of the state Legislature this year, as Albany was considering allowing self-driving cars to begin operating in New York—something the company has lobbied on since January 2016.
Between January and July, GM’s Political Action Committee made roughly $39,000 in contributions to various campaigns, up from the nearly $35,000 it made the previous year and nearly double the $20,000 it made in 2015, disclosures show.
GM’s Political Action Committee made a $17,500 donation in July to Cuomo’s 2018 campaign for governor, according to disclosures filed with the state’s Board of Elections, months after the governor and Legislature tucked a provision in the state budget in April to allow self-driving cars to begin testing for one year on New York state roads. Contributions to state legislators also increased even as payments to lobbying firms fell, lobbying records with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics and disclosures with the state Board of Elections show.
The shift in resources from lobbying to campaign contributions appears to have paid off for the vehicle manufacturing company; Cuomo announced last week that GM is slated to begin testing driverless cars in New York City as early as next year. The governor has denied that there is any link.
GM’s startup subsidiary Cruise Automation applied for permits to test driverless cars in New York City, the governor’s office announced Oct. 17. The driverless vehicle trials, which will require permits issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, will include two passengers, an engineer in the driver’s seat to monitor the performance and another person in the passenger’s seat, according to Cuomo’s office. The testing also is to be supervised by state police.
Between January and June of 2015, General Motors spent more than $73,000 on lobbying. The largest single recipient of lobbying cash was $72,000 made between January and June 2015 to the firm of Patricia Lynch Associates, run by the former communications director to ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. GM, according to lobbying disclosures, no longer retains Patricia Lynch Associates and in recent months, Patricia Lynch, a public relations specialist, has said she is “rightsizing the firm to be a boutique firm.”
Between January and June of this year, GM has spent roughly $6,000 on lobbying, the bulk of that amount on the lobbying firm LCI, run by Christopher Grimaldi, a Republican lawyer-lobbyist based in the suburbs of Albany who was previously employed by Lynch’s firm. GM also uses its own in-house lobbyist, records show. But during that same six-month time period, GM made $21,700 in campaign contributions to members of the state Senate and Assembly.
The governor’s office told the New York Daily News last week that the insinuation that GM was given any favoritism because of the campaign contribution was “obnoxious” and “absurd.”
Requests for comment by the New York Law Journal did not receive a response.
While the Democratic governor received the single largest amount, Republicans who control the state Senate have received the most in campaign contributions from GM since the PAC began contributing in earnest in May 2013.
Campaign contribution records show that the company has donated nearly $53,000 to Republican state Senate candidates since the PAC became active in 2013. Mainline Democrats who have a minority in the state Senate have received a combined $19,500 from 2013 until now. The Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democrats who align with Republicans, have received $15,500 since 2013. State Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the GOP separately, received $1,000, disclosures show.
A spokesman for GM did not return requests for comment for this story.
GM won’t be the first to test autonomous vehicles in New York. In June, Audi tested its driverless technology in the Capital Region and Cadillac, which is owned by GM, has been running tests in Buffalo.
News of the autonomous vehicle testing in New York City was met with skepticism by the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been engaged in a yearslong public feud with Cuomo. Following last week’s announcement, a spokesman for the mayor said that the city wasn’t consulted on the self-driving cars and that the administration had safety concerns. Asked to elaborate on such concerns, a spokeswoman for de Blasio referred questions to the city’s Department of Transportation, which did not return requests for comment