A couple linked to a company that has won hundreds of millions in Medicaid transportation contracts over the years has generated more than a combined $300,000 in the campaign coffers of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and current Gov. Kathy Hochul , according to records reviewed by The Post.
Critics say the donations are a textbook case of Albany’s pay-to-play culture that allows bidders and contractors to give massive campaign contributions to the governor whose agencies oversee them. By comparison, New York City law limits donations from bidders and contractors to the mayor and Big Apple business agencies to $400.
The company, Medical Answering Services, founded by President Russ Maxwell in 2004, was awarded eight contracts totaling $403.7 million by the state Department of Health from 2011 to 2018. Four of the contracts only expire next year.
Maxwell and his wife, Morgan McDole, poured $236,000 into Cuomo’s campaign coffers during those years.
The couple also poured more than $100,000 combined into Hochul’s campaign coffers, serving as governor and lieutenant governor under Cuomo — and the Hochul-controlled State Democratic Committee.
McDole, for example, has made three contributions totaling $52,600 to Hochul in the past year — $22,600 on January 8, 2021, $10,000 on September 9, 2021 shortly after she became governor and 20 000 dollars on April 24 of this year.
McDole donated an additional $20,000 to the Hochul-influenced state Democratic Party on April 27 of this year.
Meanwhile, Maxwell has donated $32,100 to Hochul since 2018 and $176,000 to Cuomo during his tenure. McDole donated an additional $60,000 to Cuomo.
“This is a perfect example of just how lax campaign finance laws are,” said John Kaehny, director of government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.
“It feels like paying to play. This destroys public trust in government. The New York City government leads the state on this.
Senate Elections Committee Chairman Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) passed a bill that prohibit campaign contributions during a bidding process and six months after an award has been awarded to a successful bidder. But the legislation stalled in the state assembly.
“The New York State Stock Exchange is huge. Any bidder seeking taxpayers’ money should be free from political influence,” Myrie said.
“The proposal aims to restore faith in the bidding process which has been lacking. The current system gives the impression that people have to give campaign donations to grease the wheels. This is unacceptable.
A representative for Maxwell insisted that the donations from the contractor and his wife were not tied to contracts awarded to his company. The eight contracts range from $15 million to $120 million to provide transportation for Medicaid beneficiaries to all parts of the state, including New York, according to comptroller’s office records.
The Department of Health said Medical Response Services was awarded another contract in the 2020-21 budget after a request for proposal was issued under state law.
Maxwell’s company acts as a contractor or broker who works with transportation providers to pick up and drop off Medicaid beneficiaries, meaning his company doesn’t pocket the full contract amount.
“Russ Maxwell has been involved in national and local politics for more than 30 years, including a run for the National Assembly in 1992. He has supported numerous political candidates and causes over the years,” the spokesperson said. by Maxwell, Patrick McCarthy.
“Russ and her husband supported former Governor Cuomo’s efforts to legalize gay marriage in New York, and he has known Governor Hochul for decades from his days on the Hamburg City Council, and as a [Erie] County Clerk. Russ supports election candidates who have a vision for New York’s future, that future is important to Russ, his family and the hundreds of men and women who work at MAS.
The rep also said Maxwell has helped the state achieve cost savings and efficiencies in New York’s largest $92.7 billion Medicaid budget, which provides health insurance coverage funded by the state to the needy.
Prior to the award of the first state contract, Maxwell’s contributions were more modest. For example, he gave two contributions to gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer for $1,000 and $500 in 2005.
Subsequently, Maxwell donated $25,000 to Cuomo’s campaign committee on July 9, 2012, and he continued to make large contributions to Cuomo as new contracts were renewed or awarded.
Hochul and Cuomo, both criticized for their aggressive fundraising from people with state affairs, insisted they were not swayed by campaign donations.
“Consistent with Governor Hochul’s commitment to maintaining high ethical standards, campaign contributions do not influence government decisions,” Hochul campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey said.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said, “I can’t say how things are going right now, but contracts have always been done at the agency level – period. The two set rules in Albany are that critics like to criticize and like to read their names in the paper.
The Department of Health said Maxwell’s company was awarded contracts on the merits after competitive bidding – without the involvement of the governor’s office.
“The Department of Health has contracted with this vendor for over a decade to provide essential transportation services to Medicaid patients and, after a competitive bidding process, awarded this vendor a contract. authorized under the state’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget to provide non-emergency medical services. transportation brokerage management services for New Yorkers enrolled in the Medicaid program,” said state health department spokesperson Cort Ruddy.
“The contract has assessed both technical considerations and costs, as stated in the tender and in accordance with the State Finance Law. The Executive Chamber does not provide information on the contracts managed by the Department and did not participate in the selection of the laureate.
Hochul has come under scrutiny for renewing the state of emergency for COVID-19 for months, which suspended state procurement rules that The Times Union said recently enabled a rapid-testing company called Digital Gadgets — run by a campaign donor — to secure $637 million in no-bid deals from the state Department of Health since December.
Company owner Charlie Tebele and his family have given nearly $300,000 to Hochul as she runs for office against Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin.
Hochul has also collected significant contributions from other companies with operations before the state – cannabis operators, film companies, casino operators and the real estate sector.