Andrew Cuomo versus the NRA? You know the governor is loving
The public brawl with the group Democrats hate most is just what
Cuomo needs to carry him through next month's primary and to
elevate his standing for the coming presidential race. It's a
wonderful way to change the subject and brush aside those
unpleasant corruption headlines.
But there's something to consider if you are among those
cheering the governor during this particular fight: His attack
on the National Rifle Association is more harmful to the First
Amendment than the Second.
Cuomo, you see, has essentially weaponized the state's
regulatory authorities to go after a political organization with
which he disagrees. It is also an organization that will stand
in his way if he really does run for president.
Specifically, the fight involves an insurance policy that is
promoted by the NRA for those who carry concealed weapons. The
governor says the program is illegal in New York because it
could cover acts of "intentional wrongdoing."
If it is true that the insurance is illegal — I won't pretend to
be an expert in insurance law — the state is within its rights
to target it.
But the effort is much broader than that. Cuomo, as the NRA
notes in a recently filed lawsuit, is using the power of state
government to pressure banks and insurance companies to stop
doing business with the gun rights group.
"We must push further to ensure that gun safety is a top
priority for every individual, company, and organization that
does business across the state," Cuomo said in an April press
release. "I am directing the Department of Financial Services to
urge insurers and bankers statewide to determine whether any
relationship they may have with the NRA or similar organizations
sends the wrong message."
The DFS, which regulates the banking and insurance industries,
followed up with letters urging companies to reconsider doing
business with the NRA and other gun-rights groups. Consider the
potential for "reputational risk," the letters say.
"Simply put, the defendants made it clear to banks and insurers
that it is bad business in New York to do business with the
NRA," the group says in its lawsuit. It adds that the
"blacklisting campaign" is a violation of speech and association
rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
The NRA is wrong about much, but they have that right. What
Cuomo is doing — using the power of the state to target a
political enemy — is tyrannical.
If you're willing to excuse the danger this time because you
believe the NRA is uniquely awful, at least consider the
precedent being set. What if conservative governors decide to
similarly target progressive causes or companies that do
business with liberal advocacy groups?
To get a sense of what that might look like, we don't have to
travel far. We have an example from right here in Albany,
implemented by ... you guessed it! ... Andrew Cuomo.
Two years ago, the governor issued an executive order requiring
state agencies to stop doing business with companies and
organizations that support boycotts, divestment or sanctions
against Israel for its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians —
otherwise known as the BDS movement, a popular cause on the left.
Cuomo's order even required that the state Office of General
Services create a blacklist of companies involved in the BDS
movement and make that list available to everyone online — a
nice little bit of public shaming for anyone daring to diverge
from the governor's point of view.
The move was outrageously antagonistic toward free speech, but
that has long been the pattern with Cuomo. He doesn't want to
debate those who disagree with him. He calls his opponents
enemies and tries to intimidate them. He tries to shut them up.
(Yes, it is quite Trumpian.)
On Monday, Cuomo was still enjoying the attention provided by
his battle with the NRA. Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," he
said, "If they went away, I would offer my thoughts and prayers,
Joe, just like they do every time we have another situation of
innocents losing their lives."
It's an effective line among Democrats, and Cuomo has repeated
it in recent days. It's also an effective line for the NRA,
given how it will induce a flood of donations.
Cuomo versus the NRA? In the short term, both sides win.