Last Updated: 3:42 AM, January 4, 2011
Posted: 1:16 AM, January 4, 2011
The campaign-finance report by a coalition of good-government groups found Kovner, whose hedge fund, Caxton Associates, manages some $10 billion in assets, gave $283,200 to state campaigns last year, more than any other individual donor.
Kovner's contributions crossed party lines, including $55,900 to Democratic former Gov. David Paterson. The financier gave $130,000 to Republican candidates in their successful effort to recapture the state Senate.
Kovner sits on the board of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and supports various charter schools around the state, including Bronx Preparatory. He also is the founder and chairman of the School Choice Scholarships Foundation, which rewards low-income kids in New York
Even Kovner's contributions, however, could soon be eclipsed by a potentially more influential supporter of charter schools, Mayor Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor reportedly donated $900,000 of his own money to the Senate Republicans, although that wouldn't have to be reported until later this month.
Other education-reform advocates to generously back candidates in the last election include: National Heritage Academies founder J.C. Huizenga ($214,250), Greenlight Capital chief David Einhorn ($191,800) and conservative financier Roger Hertog ($181,835).
Charter advocates say the donations help counteract the influence from teachers unions that often oppose charters and are usually among the state's biggest spenders on lobbying and campaign finance.
Charter supporters and teachers unions clashed fiercely last year over state efforts to apply for the Obama administration's pro-charter Race to the Top education-aid program.
Top contributors also included donors not associated with the charter movement per se, such as David Rich ($221,548), heir to the Rich frozen-food empire, and hedge-fund manager James Simons ($217,350). Both men's top contributions went to Democrats, including Gov. Cuomo.
In all, 18 individuals donated more than $150,000 in this past election cycle. Only 59,350 of the state's 19.4 million residents donated to campaign funds.
Business groups contributed the most, donating $67 million, or 27 percent of all donations. Real-estate and construction groups accounted for the largest share of that, or $14 million.
Labor unions followed, donating $21 million, or 8 percent of all donations. Public-employee unions dominated that list.
"New York's system of relying on a small number of very large donors is what is the cornerstone of Albany's pay-to-play culture," NYPIRG's Blair Horner said. "If the public is ever going to have confidence in this state government, it has to happen with changes in this system."
Reform groups have called on Cuomo to follow through on his campaign pledge to push legislation to establish a statewide public system of campaign financing, similar to the one that exists for city elections. The groups estimate such a system would cost taxpayers between $34 million and $68 million annually.