The surprisingly large influx of campaign contributions from breeders and horse owners in Kentucky, California and elsewhere to the New York gubernatorial campaign of Eliot Spitzer did not come from individuals secretly vying to obtain the New York Racing Association franchise, according to one of the top donors.
"We have no interest in any group trying to purchase NYRA. We're interested in the horses," said breeder Tracy W. Farmer, who organized a June 19 fundraiser at his Kentucky farm that was attended by Spitzer. Farmer is a leader among racing industry insiders.
Campaign finance filings released this week by the Spitzer campaign showed hundreds of thousands of dollars from individuals and companies connected to the horse industry. But it was the large contributions by Farmer and others, several of whom (including Farmer), donated $50,000 apiece. That left industry watchers in New York convinced the contributions came from individuals who would be hooking up with one of the 16 potential bidders in the NYRA franchise.
Farmer, who was asked to host the fundraiser by Spitzer, insisted there are no such motivations by any of the people who gave to the New York attorney general at his Midway Farm fundraiser. Indeed, he said, he purposely avoided inviting anyone vying for the franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.
Farmer, the former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said his event included a political cross-section, including Republicans who rarely, if ever, donate to Democrats. B. Wayne Hughes, a wealthy California horseman and owner of Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky who usually supports conservative Republican causes, gave Spitzer $50,000.
"He was electrifying to this crowd in Kentucky," Farmer said of Spitzer.
The breeder said the money flowed from people concerned about a healthy New York equine industry. "Could you imagine the rest of the country if we didn't have a viable horse industry in New York? We'd be in terrible shape," he said.
"We hope he gets elected, number one. We believe in him, number two. Number three, we think that he will do the right thing for the horse industry of New York. And number four, that in turn will help the horse industry throughout the country," Farmer said.
Several other donors at the event did not return calls for comment.
Farmer said he has no opinion about any of the prospective bidders, which includes everyone from NYRA, Magna Entertainment, Churchill Downs and an assortment of horse owners, trainers, breeders and companies in the gambling industry. "The group here believes in Attorney General Spitzer and we believe that he will make a correct and just decision, whatever that may be," Farmer said.
The bidding process for the NYRA franchise, set to expire Dec. 31, 2007, is underway. But with the current New York governor, George Pataki, leaving office at the end of the year, few expect the issue to be resolved this year. That leaves it to the next governor who takes office Jan. 1. Spitzer has a commanding lead over his two rivals, Democrat Thomas Suozzi and Republican John Faso.
Spitzer's already large campaign account became a mecca for horse industry dollars over the past six months, new state board of election records show. From groups interested in the franchise, he got $10,000 from TVG and its parent, at least $5,000 from Delaware North, and $2,500 from a Magna-owned track.
Other Spitzer donors, most of whom were at Farmer's fundraiser, included WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, who gave $50,000. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association donated $4,000 to Spitzer. Casner is a former board member of the NTRA's political action committee.
Angela Beck, the wife of Antony Beck, the president of Gainesway, gave $50,000, and Farmer's wife, Carol, donated $8,000 to Spitzer. Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud near Midway, donated $10,000 to Spitzer, while Three Chimney's Farm in Kentucky gave $2,000 and Blythe Clay, wife of the farm's owner Robert Clay, donated $2,000. Also giving to Spitzer was racetrack owner R.D. Hubbard, and his wife, who donated $10,000 apiece.
Other donations to Spitzer included $20,000 from Saratoga's Mary Lou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, and $15,000 from New York Yankees owner and horseman George Steinbrenner gave Spitzer $15,000. Steinbrenner's son-in-law, Steve Swindal, is part of a group going after the NYRA franchise and industry insiders have speculated for months that Steinbrenner will end up being a part of that bid.