Sparks fly over Hochul ad

ALBANY — Paid radio advertisements prominently mentioning Gov. Kathy Hochul and promoting her “nation-leading effort” to advance green energy were released to the airwaves after being approved by the New York Power Authority, a state authority, CNHI has learned.

The ads touted the offering of $600 million in triple tax-exempt “green transmission revenue bonds” to finance clean energy projects put on the drawing boards to help the state reach its goal of carbon neutrality.

Stitching Hochul’s name into the advertisements appears to stray from the spirit of the state Public Officers Law, which prohibits the mention of candidates for public office being mentioned in paid advertising using public funds, said Rachael Fauss of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group.

“The spirit of the law is relevant here,” Fauss told CNHI. “It would have been better if the governor had not been mentioned so specifically.”

The NYPA ad mentions Hochul twice in the opening two sentences.

“In pursuit of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2022 State of the State Green Bond commitment, the New York Power Authority is preparing to sell $600 million in Green Transmission Revenue Bonds to build a thriving and resilient state powered by clean energy,” the ad begins.

Paul DiMichele, a spokesman for NYPA, said while Hochul is named in the promotion, “the governor’s likeness, picture or voice do not ‘appear’ in the ad ads that term is defined under Public Officers Law 73-b. There is no violation.”

He also said the ads were not paid for with state or NYPA funds. The costs, though, “will be paid back through NYISO (New York Independent Service Operator, the manager of the power grid) transmission revenues from the transmission projects.”

But one of Hochul’s rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor, Tom Suozzi, said the ads crossed the line into being improper.

“That’s illegal!” Suozzi said. “Kathy Hochul uses taxpayer dollars to promote herself politically. She picked a lieutenant governor indicted for corruption. She uses the state helicopter to go to her fundraisers and now this. She has no shame.”

Hochul’s campaign has been under fire from Suozzi, another Democratic contender for governor, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Republicans for the last 10 days after her lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, resigned abruptly following his arrest on felony charges related to campaign corruption. With the Democratic primary now just two months away, Hochul is without a running mate for the time being.

As of last week, investment companies have found buyers for all of the bonds and the ads are no longer running on New York stations.

Contacted by CNHI, Hochul’s office declined to comment on the record.

DeMichele and Hochul’s office did not respond to questions as to the identity of the individuals at NYPA or the governor’s office who had reviewed the text of the ad copy before the commercials were released. DeMichele also said had no immediate information available on how much money was spent for the ad campaign.

NYPA announced this week the bonds will finance the Central East Energy Connect Transmission Project and the Smart Path Reliability Transmission Project. Both projects are intended to move power generated upstate through the grid to New York City and Long Island.

Echoing the message tucked into the ads, Justin Driscoll, NYPA’s interim president, stated in the announcement: “NYPA is working to achieve Governor Kathy Hochul’s bold clean energy vision for the state, addressing the administration’s 2022 State of the State green bonds commitment and accelerating New York’s goal to ensure that 70% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable energy by 2030, and 100% by 2040.”

The sale of the bonds was managed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The deal has been described as NYPA’s first sale of securities backed not by the authority’s credit but by revenue derived from specific transmission developments.


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