Pre-primary financial disclosures; continuing ed for DC attorneys

For elected officials and candidates who will be on the primary ballot this year, August 11th was the filing deadline for the 32-Day Pre-Primary financial reports. Here is a brief rundown of the disclosures.

Mayor of Buffalo

The September 12th Democratic primary, which will effectively determine who will be the next mayor, is a contest among incumbent Byron Brown, City Comptroller Mark Schroeder, and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. While all three are actively campaigning, the financial reports indicate a rather lopsided race. A recent Spectrum News/Siena College poll also shows Brown with a two-to-one lead over Schroeder.

Mayor Brown has a balance of $582,168, having raised $112,964 since the previous July 15th report. His committee spent $49,623.

Comptroller Schroeder reports $130,526 in his campaign account. He has collected $50,265 since July, with $37,854 in spending.

Legislator Grant does not have a campaign account for mayor. Her county legislative account shows $11,986 cash on hand as of the August 7th cut-off date of the report. She took in $6,200 and spent $1,441.

With a month to go before Primary Day none of the mayoral committees shows any spending on TV and radio ads. That’s somewhat unprecedented for a major primary.

Erie County Clerk

While there is not a primary for this office, the Republican candidate, Mickey Kearns, did file a report. He has a balance of $45,604, having raised $21,974 since mid-July.

Erie County Sheriff

Neither Republican incumbent Sheriff Tim Howard nor his Democratic opponent Bernie Tolbert have primaries. Howard did file a report showing that he has $110,211 available for his campaign. His committee purchased $10,000 in radio ads.

Erie County Comptroller

There are no primaries for Comptroller and neither candidate filed a new report.

Judicial campaigns

Democrat Susan Eagan is unopposed for the office of County Judge. She raised an additional $550 since July. Democrat Surrogate Court Judge candidate Acea Mosey, who is also unopposed, collected an additional $350.

Incumbent Republican State Supreme Court Justice Erin Peradotto did not file an update on her July report. Democratic candidate for Supreme Court, Lynn Keane, has created a campaign committee. The Supreme Court candidates, expected to be cross endorsed by Democrats and Republicans at the September Judicial Nominating Conventions, are not required to file financial reports at this time.

That’s four major judicial offices without competitive races. While the nomination process for Supreme Court limits competition to whatever the Nominating Conventions produce, having no competition for the Erie County judgeships is a hard-to-understand development. This all seems to give new meaning to the term “nolo contendere.”

Amherst Town Board

The Republicans have a three-way primary for the Amherst Town Board. Candidate Erin Baker’s reported expenses include a “transfer out” of $5,500 to the Erie County Republican Committee, which is chaired by Baker’s husband, Nick Langworthy – an interesting transaction. That is about half of the total amount raised by her endorsed Republican running mate, Joe Spino. Baker’s committee has a balance of $43,897. The third candidate in the primary, Christopher Drongosky, hasn’t even created a campaign committee, which it would appear violates the Election Law.

The Republican candidate for Amherst Town Supervisor, Marjory Jaeger, has a balance of $32,923 in her account compared with the $10,677 in the treasury of Democratic candidate Brian Kulpa.

Continuing education training for DC attorneys

Attorneys, like other licensed professionals, are required to keep current with their line of work by attending courses and programs that provide information on the latest developments in their respective fields.

One of the major impacts of all the mess that the Trump administration has created in the Russian fiasco and other matters is the sudden increased demand for personal legal services that has resulted. It almost seems like people from the White House housekeeping staff up to the president of the United States are lawyering-up.

What better example of the consequences of this than the District of Columbia Bar Association’s recent continuing education announcement:

Witness to History
As turmoil roils the current White House administration, the D.C. Bar begins a series of interviews with members who played a role in investigations of former presidents.

Representing the President

 

Robert S. Bennett, the personal attorney for President Clinton in the Paula Jones case, offers his personal view on the challenges of representing a sitting U.S. president facing investigation.

Getting to the Truth

 

W. Neil Eggleston reflects on his experience as deputy chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ committee that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal.

Planning to spend money you don’t have

An “Another Voice” article in a recent edition of the Buffalo News poses a serious, important and often overlooked view about the grand scheme of public issues: what is being proposed would be great, but where would the money come from?

The subject in question is the proposal from local thinker Kevin Gaughan to redevelop the Delaware Park Golf Course, relocate the golf course in South Park and restore the South Park Arboretum. Both parks were part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s grand design for an inter-connected park system in Buffalo.

Neither of the parks look like what Olmstead envisioned in the nineteenth century.  Both parks undoubtedly could use some improvements. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy is focused on that.

Gaughan’s regionalism efforts in the nineties did not lead to anything significant. His local government downsizing efforts, particularly when he suggested in some cases going down to three member legislative bodies, saved little money but added political confusion and potential ethical issues for the local governments that signed up. A past blog post noted those issues in the Town of Hamburg, which subsequently decided to go back to a five member town board.

The Gaughan proposal for the parks promotes the idea that Jack Nicklaus’ golf course design firm would come to town, at cost, and redesign the two golf courses. That’s all great except for the fact that someone has come up with a number for the total cost of the projects — $42 million.

The “Another Voice” article, written by Anne Harding Joyce, former chairwoman of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, outlines how she views Gaughan’s park plans. The emphasis in the following excerpt from the article is mine.

As a member of the Long-Range Planning Committee of the conservancy, I was present at the meeting with Gaughan and the representatives of Nicklaus Golf last fall. Everyone present was cautiously optimistic about the possibilities – they are all pieces of the conservancy’s master plan…

At that meeting last fall, Gaughan was informed by the conservancy that there was absolutely no money – zero – available for it to pursue this project and that the conservancy was not in a financial position to jeopardize the current local funding streams that allow it to do its primary job – maintain and protect Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks and Parkways.

Gaughan unequivocally stated that he would raise the entire amount needed to complete the project from sources outside of Western New York. It appears that Gaughan has begun a public campaign to make it look as if the conservancy has stalled the development of these projects by refusing to identify local funding sources. This is absurd.

I would suggest that Gaughan show the conservancy his financial commitments and then perhaps the conservancy would have more confidence that he is holding up his end of the original conversation.

Kevin Gaughan is a very bright and articulate advocate for the projects he promotes.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Kevin, but $42 million doesn’t grow on trees.

He claims to be able to raise that amount of money from out-of-town interests. History plus observations about how the world works show that proposition to be silly. Why would out-of-town interests want to provide millions of dollars to re-design a couple small golf courses in Buffalo? In the meantime local cultural organizations are already in the hunt for millions of dollars in capital funds for their particular projects.

The lack of reality about funding options for noteworthy projects that have been discussed in Western New York shows that Gaughan’s park plan is similar to other grandiose ideas. That doesn’t mean that any of them make sense. They include:

  • The expansion of NFTA’s Metrorail line into Amherst up to the University of Buffalo’s North Campus, which is estimated to cost $1.2 billion for construction and countless millions more for the expanded operating costs of the line. The state has committed $5 million to studying this idea. The line would extend the system an additional six-plus miles, with half of the stops on the UB campus. Great for UB! The construction money would proposedly come from the federal government (which has no plans for any substantial infrastructure work); the state government (that has already provided the Buffalo Billion); and the county and town governments (that are not about to get out their checkbooks for this).
  • The capping and landscaping of a small portion of the Kensington Expressway in an attempt to restore some of the lost ambiance of the neighborhood that was destroyed when the Expressway was built. The state has already spent money on preliminary environmental/design/engineering work on this idea, which is seen as costing $170 million. Repeat here the comments in the first bullet point about where the money would come from.

I guess it is my life experiences that include county budget director and member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority that lead me to a scrooge-like view of the proposed public works projects noted here. All of them, in and of themselves, are exciting and could improve the area in various ways. But where does the money come from? Does it make sense to spend time and money studying things that rational and realistic planners would conclude are never going to happen?

If someone drives around the City of Buffalo and the first-ring suburbs it is easy to identify many very ordinary but very important needs for public money. Think Main Street in Buffalo and Maple Road in Amherst, both of which are badly in need of repair. Think taking down the Skyway and improving access to the outer harbor with a ground-level bridge. Add community facilities of all sorts. These are projects that already sit on drawing boards somewhere, with nowhere near the amount of money that would be needed to complete these very mundane public works. If any of the above noted big projects were to move along the ordinary day-to-day infrastructure necessities would fall further down the list of funding priorities.

This community has made some great strides in re-orienting the job mix in the area and in developing great facilities such as Canalside, but only by being realistic will that progress continue. Think big, but think clearly.

What does Pigeon’s Federal Court re-scheduling and the entrance in the matter of a Washington DOJ attorney suggest?

Steve Pigeon, for his entire life, has been totally immersed in politics, from his childhood campaign activities in Missouri to work in the seats of power in Albany and Washington. The past two years, however, have not been fun.

Allegations of election law violations have swirled for many years, finally boiling over with state and federal legal actions. The raid on Pigeon’s home by state and federal authorities two years ago was followed by state bribery and extortion charges and the 2016 guilty plea by the state judge caught up in those matters.

Then came additional state complaints related to Pigeon’s infamous 2013 WNY Progressive Caucus political committee and its questionable fundraising and campaign spending activities. Formal charges have not yet been placed in that matter.

Finally there was the federal criminal complaint lodged against him on April 28, 2017. The complaint in USA v. Pigeon, as listed in federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) documents, concerns “conspiracy to defraud the United States” and “contributions and donations by foreign nationals.”

The complaint was unsealed and Pigeon had his first court appearance in the matter before Magistrate Michael Roemer on May 8th.  Paul Cambria and Justin Ginter represent Pigeon.  Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney Paul Bonanno from the Western District of New York represents the United States.  On May 9th John Dixon Keller from the DOJ’s Criminal Division Public Integrity Section in Washington joined the case on the government’s behalf.  More on Keller below.

On May 15th a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Roemer was scheduled for June 15th.  On June 6th, however, the hearing date was changed to Monday, August 7th.

On July 27th PACER records show that the hearing was re-scheduled again, to October 6, 2017.

The proceedings to-date raise questions about the reasons for the delays. I hope the lawyers and judges reading this post will forgive this non-attorney for some speculation, but it seems to me that this has nothing to do with giving everyone involved a chance to enjoy the summer sun.  It seems more likely that there is some serious case building, defendant squeezing, and prosecution coordination going on.

The court Order Setting Conditions of Release concerning Pigeon which was signed by Magistrate Roemer and Pigeon on May 8th lists as one of the conditions that “the defendant shall appear for any other local or state court proceedings and abide by any conditions imposed, as so ordered by the jurisdiction of that court.”  So whatever occurs in state court relating to the Pigeon indictment and additional campaign finance issues will proceed while Pigeon awaits the October 7th federal hearing.

Former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek pleaded guilty in June 2016 to the bribery charges involved in Pigeon’s indictment. The sentencing of Michalek, however, has been continuously postponed.  Pigeon is currently scheduled to go on trial in the bribery case on September 5th.

So, just wondering, is everything teed up for a Pigeon plea deal in October?

Now back to the note about the second DOJ attorney who is referenced as joining Pigeon’s federal case in May, John Dixon Keller.

A Google search indicates that Keller is a bit of a “have law books, will travel” DOJ attorney. A DOJ press release from October 2014 reports that Keller was a prosecutor in a case where a Mississippi man pleaded guilty to paying bribes to employees at a military base for freight business.

More recently, and perhaps of greater note, Keller represented the United States government in the case of USA v. Arpaio.  Joe Arpaio was Sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona for 24 years until his defeat in last November’s election.  This past Monday Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.  Arpaio is notorious for the harsh conditions in the jail that he ran and for his campaign against undocumented immigrants.  He has been an active supporter of Donald Trump.

The re-scheduling of Pigeon’s hearing to October 7th and the involvement of a DOJ Public Integrity attorney from Washington in the matter might indicate that his legal problems, combining both the state charges and the federal complaint, are closing in on him.

The system of justice in the United States, despite the oft-cited dictum of “justice delayed is justice denied,” sometimes moves at a very slow and deliberative pace. But each case has a conclusion and USA v. Pigeon seems to be drawing to its end.

ECC’s challenges; ECMC’s challenges; a major Erie County financial issue; Chris Collins’ view of Trumpcare; Flynn’s promise-made promise-kept

Here is a short run-down of a variety of issues that impact Western New Yorkers.

ECC

Erie Community College has a new president, Dan Hocoy. His resume is appropriate to the job in-hand. The job in-hand is very challenging.

The College has some very well-known financial issues that will test Hocoy, his staff, and the Board of Trustees including:

  • Declining student enrollment, which has been an on-going concern for several years. Reportedly this summer’s session had an enrollment drop off in the low double digits, and another drop is anticipated for the fall semester. The school is heavily dependent on tuition payments to support its budget. State aid is calculated based on enrollment, so even though there have been some modest increases in per-capita aid from Albany, the actual dollars coming to ECC have declined because of enrollment drops.
  • The school has signed on to a new technology program designed to bring school record-keeping into the 21st century. The program comes with a substantial annual cost increase for such purposes.
  • The school has continued to eat into its financial reserves, which could at some point impact accreditation.
  • The College has some substantial unmet capital needs spread out among its three campuses. The Quinn administration failed to produce the school’s share of the new STEM building, which was to be one-quarter of the $30 million anticipated cost.

The College’s long-time financial vice president, Bill Reuter, recently left for a position at Hudson Valley Community College. Reuter was able to keep financial things patched together for a long time, but over the years the school has been left with fewer options to deal with the issues going forward. Filling Reuter’s position will be a high priority for Hocoy.

The new president moved to set the tone for his new administration by reducing the size of his executive staff, laying off two, having one retire, and having a fourth person transferred outside of the executive team. Annual savings are projected at $500,000, which seems a bit on the high side if one of the jobs was just a transfer within the school.

One of the two layoffs involved Jeff Bagel, Vice President in charge of the ECC Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for raising outside funds for the school. Its operations were part of the subject of the State Comptroller’s audit released in early 2016, which called for reforms in the way the Foundation was run. Hocoy extended the duties of Executive Vice President Michael Piekiewicz to include supervision of the Foundation.

The change in staff leadership of the Foundation was not done in consultation with the Foundation’s Board of Directors, which oversees its operations and has an interest in the appointment of the Foundation’s executive. In protest, three-quarters of the Board resigned. No word yet on how Hocoy will deal with that issue.

Finally, some changes are coming to the College’s Board. Former member Len Lenihan is being reappointed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz.  There are a couple other Board spots in play, which could possibly strengthen Poloncarz’s hand in influencing management of the school if he chooses.

ECMC

The Erie County Medical Center went through a rather traumatic event in April – the takeover of its computer systems by a hacker. The Buffalo News reported last week that the hackers wanted the equivalent of $30,000 in Bitcoins as ransom. The hospital refused and instead has been working through the recovery process, improving security of their systems. Hospital management has totaled its losses in terms of added expenses and lost revenues at approximately $10 million. Increases in annual technology operating costs related to improved security are also expected to be substantial.

By coincidence, $10 million is also the limit of liability insurance coverage that the hospital purchased last year. How the hospital’s claim will settle out remains to be seen. It would not be unusual for the insurance carrier to offer something less than the requested $10 million. So it might be like those non-stop TV commercials we keep seeing – “CB law firm got me X million for my claim – ten times more than what the insurance company offered.” Which is why the hospital hired a major local law firm – no, not THAT one – to represent them in dealing with the insurance carrier.

Erie County’s financial challenge

As the time begins to draw near for the preparation of Erie County’s 2018 budget, County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the County Legislature are about to face a new round of challenges. Among them will be the finances of ECC and ECMC.

Poloncarz has provided some limited increases in the county’s annual subsidy to the College, but the increases have not compensated for the school’s growing financial difficulties as enrollment declines. The County Executive proposed a joint county-college working group to study the school’s options for future operations, but the school was slow to respond. Perhaps that will change now.

A major on-going challenge to the county’s finances has been the hospital’s escalating expenses related to indigent care under a federal Medicaid program known as Intergovernmental Transfers, or IGT.

In 2016 the county was required to make millions of dollars more in IGT payments than originally budgeted. Already in 2017, per the county’s May Budget Monitoring Report, payments exceeded $34 million, or $11 million more than budgeted, with seven months remaining in the fiscal year. Total costs for 2017 will likely be on the high side of $40 million.

This issue is substantial and is not going away. It is part of the reason that an earlier post on this blog suggested that the county executive and the legislature will need to think about a county property tax increase in 2018.

The financial agreement worked out among the county administration, the legislature, the hospital, and the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (ECFSA) earlier this year to finance capital improvements at the hospital may factor into the county’s IGT payment obligations to the hospital. The amount of money saved by the county/ECFSA bond deal, when compared with what capital borrowing would have cost the hospital to do it itself, is likely to be credited to the county by the hospital in some form. That would provide some temporary – but only temporary – financial relief to the county.

Chris Collins’ take on Trumpcare

The bumbling, stumbling efforts of Republicans in the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives to live up to their seven year commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare have been a failure of the highest order. While millions of Americans may, for the time being, breathe a little easier about their health insurance coverage, the issues are not in any way resolved. Let’s see how bi-partisanship works.

The “skinny” repeal bill that the Senate tried but failed to approve last week would have removed coverage from 15 million Americans and increased premiums by about 20 percent. Western New Yorkers would have been among the casualties of that proposal.

Here’s how Congressman Chris Collins weighed in with the New York Times last Friday about the “skinny” repeal:

Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York and a key ally of Mr. Trump, said the stripped-down bill would be “better than nothing” if it became apparent that the Senate did not have the votes for a more ambitious bill. “It becomes a binary choice,” he said. “If it’s this or nothing, who wants to go home and say I did nothing? No one can guarantee anything,” he added, sending a message to senators wanting assurances.

Having 15 million people lose health coverage with 20 percent increases in premiums for others is “better than nothing”, Chris? Wow! Your constituents are so grateful for your efforts. You seem better suited for stock brokering than legislating.

Flynn keeps his promise

Last year’s race for Erie County District Attorney was a hard fought battle, both in the Democratic primary and in the general election. Things often get said and promised in the heat of a campaign that sometimes do not come to fruition when the winner takes office.

The election winner, John Flynn, committed himself to neither soliciting nor accepting campaign funds from employees of the District Attorney’s office if he was elected. In-house solicitation has been a common practice in the office.

Flynn scheduled a fundraiser for July 27th. He kept his promise.  The following is from the event invitation:

Friends of John Flynn is not soliciting or accepting contributions from employees of the District Attorney’s office or their spouses, partners, or significant others.

 

Pardon me, but is this tell the truth week?

As part of Donald Trump’s effort to Make America Great Again, the White House has been featuring various weekly themes that highlight all the great work of the administration. Editor’s note: the weekly themed approach was the brainchild of whoever was running the White House communications department at the time, but there is a new Mooch in town so things may change.

Among the weekly themes we have seen are so far are:

  • Infrastructure Week, intended to show how the rebuilding of America’s roads, bridges and airports would add millions of jobs. Highlight of the week: FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to Congress
  • Energy Week, intended to demonstrate that Rick Perry knew what department he had wanted to eliminate and had subsequently been appointed secretary of. Highlight of the week: Trump sort of admits to Russian interference in the election and blames Obama
  • Workforce Development Week, intended to show how getting people into apprenticeships would help people get new skills for employment. Highlight of the week: Trump’s 2018 budget announcement that would gut various federal departments, including training programs
  • Made in America Week, intended to show how Ivanka Trump’s line of clothes are made in Asia. Okay, so that was not the intended purpose. Highlight of the week: The Senate’s inability to repeal and replace Obamacare

So here we are in the week of July 24th. Jared Kushner testified privately to investigators of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and with House Intelligence Committee representatives on Tuesday. Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort were supposed to appear publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee today but for now there will be private interviews.  So what better week to declare it Tell the Truth Week©?

Tell the Truth Week© will feature various Trumpkins pretending to tell the truth. Kushner has hired some high-priced lawyers and public relations consultants to advise him on how to tell the truth. He might do somewhat better than Donald Jr. and Paul. The latter two have the apparent disadvantage of having been already thrown under the bus by Jared, who got to a congressional committee before they did.

Jared began Tell the Truth Week© by releasing an eleven page opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He informed the committee that he “did not collude” with that woman, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Nor did he collude with Russian lobbyist Rinat Akmetshin. Nor did he collude with the Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. Nor did he collude with Russian money launderer Ike Kaveladze. Nor did he twice collude with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And Kushner only suggested using Russian facilities to communicate with Moscow because Russian generals did not want to come to America to talk.

Jared explained that the revisions to his 100-page SF-86 Security Clearance Form were necessary because a careless assistant answered questions untruthfully under penalty of falsifying the document, which is felony carrying a five-year term in federal prison. Jared failed to note that he signed the false documents in four places. I can hardly wait to hear that assistant’s testimony about the Security Clearance Form.

Separately Jared also has had problems explaining why his family continues to promote Chinese investments in Kushner properties by noting that Jared is, after all, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor. He also seems to have forgotten the stuff about getting a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank, which itself is in trouble for some money-laundering matters with the Russians.

And then there is the question about the campaign’s demographic and analytic information that Jared supervised. There’s certainly no reason to think that the straight-laced Jared might ever slip such information to the Russians, whose hackers seem to have had amazing insight into which states and counties to dump their fake news into social media during the election.

No siree, no colluding with Russia on Jared’s part. Nyet.

Then there is Don Jr., whose email chain had the subject line “Russian – Clinton – personal and confidential” helped get Kushner invited to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Don Jr. fessed up to things day after day, adding additional Russian characters to the famous meeting as he went along – sort of like a Russian nesting doll.

And let’s not forget Paul Manafort. Manafort graciously took no salary from the Trump campaign, which he joined fresh off his multi-million dollar deals with the Ukrainians who are Putin buddies. More recently Sean Spicer tried to describe the former campaign manager as a short-term volunteer on the campaign. Just why was Paul buying up housing around the country after getting paid millions from Ukrainians (or Russians)? Money laundering sounds like a good possibility there. But then Manafort’s real estate deals were small potatoes compared with the $95 million sale of a piece of Palm Beach Florida property by Trump Senior to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev.

And of course there is good old Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General of these United States of America, our premier defender of America law. Jeff plum forgot all sorts of details about his meetings with the Russkies. Heck, he couldn’t even remember that he had such meetings with them, what with his responsibilities helpin’ to run the Trump campaign and all. Trump is showing his gratitude now by pushing Sessions out the door, probably to get rid of the Robert Mueller investigation into the Russian mess.

I won’t get into lesser Trumpkins like Carter Page, who like other small role Trump-hangers-on lusts for attention, any attention, which often leads Page to tell about his Russian dealings, minor though they might have been.

Thinking about all of these Trumpkin twists and turns, at least Michael Flynn tried to get immunity to testify about what he knows.

And to be sure that she is not left out of the limelight we have Kellyanne Conway saying pay no attention to the Russian bear behind the curtain. Look at all the shiny objects that we left on the table. Even Congressman Chris Collins was brought back into Trump service to try to minimize the Russia thing.

As we move to the completion of Tell the Truth Week© we are left to ponder why, if there is no real Russia problem, is there all this talk about pardons? One of Trump’s defense team, Andrew Sekulow, said on ABC “[w]e have not, and I continue to not, have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons.” For those who learned their English style and form in the last century, re-read that sentence and try to diagram it.

Of course on the same day as Sekulow’s comments, newly appointed communications director Anthony (“the Mooch”) Scaramucci told Fox News, referring to pardons, “I’m in the Oval Office with the president last week, we’re talking about that — he brought that up.” So is Sekulow lying or is the Mooch, or are they both telling the truth and is it just POTUS who is again talking out of both sides of his mouth?

To my Republican friends who have read this far into this post, I kind of, sort of feel bad for you. Now that your party controls all of Washington it seems appropriate to expect that you would get the legislative package you yearn for. But with every passing day Obamacare repeal becomes less likely, Trumpcare is on the horizon, tax reform may or may not get approved after being skinnied-down, and immigration controls will be limited. There will be some problems with passing the 2018 federal budget and extending the debt limit.

Most of all, you have Twittering Donny hanging around the party’s neck, uncontrollable and doing damage to the party brand on a daily basis. But at least he is your president. Good luck.

July campaign financial reports are filed; speculation about Western District federal appointments

July 15th was the deadline for political committees in New York State to file their periodic financial reports. Committees involved with an active election campaign this year will be required to file several additional 2017 reports starting in August.

Compared with past experience, the election campaigns that are being fought this year are publicly pretty mild. The work of collecting and filing nominating petitions is complete. Organizing fundraisers and getting voter recruitment and get-out-the-vote programs set up is, or at least should be, well underway and mostly out of view of the general public that is not much interested in local political things in the middle of July. Here are the financial highlights of the major local campaigns to date.

Mayor of Buffalo

The marquee race this year is for Mayor of Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown is seeking his 4th term. His challengers are City Comptroller Mark Schroeder and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

As the incumbent, Brown started the race with financial and organizational advantages over his opponents. Financially the Brown lead in campaign funds remains substantial, with his current bankroll more than four times larger than Schroeder’s.

As of July 15th the Mayor’s political committee had a balance of $518,826. He raised $439,292 in the past six months from a large variety of individuals and corporations. Strangely, the Brown report includes 39 pages of fairly large contributions, totaling $251,443 that lists only addresses but no names. The Brown committee spent $261,085, with the biggest expenses for polling and fundraising.

Schroeder has a balance of $118,115, with his six months of fundraising producing $115,592. His committee spent $154,537, with the largest expenditures paid to a Los Angeles consultant and polling expenses.

Betty Jean Grant does not have a mayoral campaign committee registered with the State Board of Elections. Grant’s county legislative committee balance is only $7,227. She raised $6,240 since January and spent $4,678.

There are also candidates who have submitted petitions for the Republican, Conservative and Green Party nominations. No one at this point in time has any reason to take those candidates seriously. The Republican and Conservative candidates might only be “placeholders” who may later decline the nominations to be replaced by another candidate. Mark Schroeder has filed Reform Party petitions. There are 16 registered Reform Party voters in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County races

There are five countywide races on the ballot this year. Here is a rundown of the financial reports from the major candidates in those election contests:

  • Sheriff – Incumbent Republican Tim Howard is being challenged by Democrat Bernie Tolbert. Howard has $138,539 in his campaign treasury. He raised $92,650 during the past six months. Tolbert has $41,742 available. He loaned his committee $25,000.
  • County Clerk – This position has been vacant since Chris Jacobs assumed his new office of State Senator in January. Peggy LaGree, formerly the First Deputy Clerk, has been holding down the fort as Acting County Clerk. The endorsed Democratic candidate is Steve Cichon, who for many years served as a reporter and then news director at WBEN Radio. The Republican and Conservative Party candidate is Assemblyman Mickey Kearns. As of July 15th political newcomer Cichon had raised $16,848 and has $14,216 in the bank. Kearns has a balance of $27,380. He raised $17,149 for the Clerk campaign since January. It is likely that before this campaign is over the Democratic and Republican Party organizations will spend heavily to win the office. This election is only for the final year of Jacobs’ term in office as Clerk. The office will be on the ballot again for a full four year term in 2018.
  • Comptroller – Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is seeking his second full term in the office. The Democrat is CPA and attorney Vanessa Grushefski. Mychajliw has a campaign account balance of $90,441, having raised $32,525 since January. Grushefski has $15,817 in her account, having raised $20,577 thus far.
  • County Court Judge – Democrat Susan Eagan, who has filed petitions in all parties, is the only candidate running for this office. This is somewhat of a mystery since the office comes with a ten year term and a very generous salary. Nonetheless Eagan has a campaign committee with a balance of $38,525. She has raised $39,934 and has received a $10,000 loan from Jim and Sue Eagan.  Whatever she cannot spend on her campaign or by donating to the political parties or to other candidates will need to be refunded after the election.
  • County Surrogate Court Judge – there is also only one candidate for this judicial seat, Acea Mosey, who has served as the Court’s Administrator for the past several years under retiring Judge Barbara Howe. Mosey is endorsed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties and has filed petitions for the other parties’ nominations. Her committee has a campaign balance of $750,832. She raised $379,201 since January, and loaned the committee another $300,000, bringing the total of her personal loans to $450,000. Like Eagan and all judicial candidates, there will be lots of refund checks going out from the Mosey campaign after November. Acea Mosey is well qualified for the office of Surrogate Judge and this race has essentially been over since last year. So the only question, when looking at all the money she has raised and loaned to her campaign is: “why?”

State Supreme Court

There are two positions of Justice of the Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District to be filled this year. There is one incumbent – Appellate Court Justice Erin Peradotto. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have come together to propose cross-endorsements for Justice Peradotto, who is a registered Republican, and Lynn Keane, a Democrat. Keane is currently the Town Justice in Orchard Park. She narrowly lost an election to the Supreme Court last year.

Assuming the respective party nominating conventions go along with the Erie County chairmen in September we are only going through the formalities here. Peradotto has a committee fund balance of $101,708. Keane has not as yet created a 2017 committee.

Town of Amherst

For now I’ll just leave this as a list of campaign committee balances with no editorial comments (except that Republican State Chairman Ed Cox contributed $250 to Erin Baker):

  • Democrat for Supervisor – Brian Kulpa $4,070
  • Republican for Supervisor – Marjory Jaeger $31,465
  • Democrat for Council – Jacqualine Berger $2,939
  • Democrat for Council – Shawn Lavin $1,092
  • Republican for Council – Erin Baker $56,800
  • Republican for Council – Joseph Spino $7,449
  • Republican for Council – Christopher Drongosky – no committee registered
  • Conservative for Council – William Kindel – no Council committee registered

O’Donnell for New York

The O’Donnell for New York committee was set up in 2005 in anticipation of a 2006 race for state attorney general. Denise O’Donnell was to have been the committee’s candidate.  She dropped out after the state Democratic Party Convention in the spring of 2006.

Aside from preliminary campaign expenses for the race that was never run, the main beneficiaries of the committee’s largesse have been the re-election campaign of her State Supreme Court Justice husband John O’Donnell and her lobbyist/political consultant son Jack.

As of July 15th the O’Donnell for New York committee had a balance in its treasury of $280,776. It spent $268 on bank and IRS fees since January. Bank interest produced $405 in new revenues. In total this committee has raised $1,122,670 since 2005. You can read further information about this committee in a previous posting on this blog.

Garner update

A previous post mentioned the political income that political operative Maurice Garner had collected in recent years. 2017 is not going as well. His Urban Visions and Garner Associates collected nothing in the past six months. His Urban Chamber of Commerce organization, one of three locations raided by the FBI and State Police last month, collected a total of $650 since January from the committees of Acea Mosey, Byron Brown and Joel Giambra.

Speculation about Trump administration appointments in the Western District of New York

The most obvious and significant local political appointments that follow from the election of a new president are the positions of federal judge, United States attorney and United States marshal. Word on the street is that Republicans in Western New York have settled on their choices for those offices in the Western District of New York.

For judge the person moving forward is Amy Habib Rittling, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman. The role that Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand might play in consideration of the nomination is not known. This appointment would fill a long term vacancy on the Court.

For U.S. attorney speculation centers around Hodgson Russ partner John Sinatra. Sinatra is the brother of developer and Bush 43 appointee Nick Sinatra. The U.S. attorney’s position has been vacant since William Hochul resigned last fall.

The choice for U.S. marshal, according to circulating reports, is Peter Vito. Vito served as Commissioner of Central Police Services in the administration of then County Executive Chris Collins. Normally the U.S. marshal’s position in the Western District goes to someone from Monroe County if the U.S. attorney is from Erie County.

Actual presidential nominations and congressional action on these appointments will depend on how such things fit into the schedules of the Trump administration and Congress. At the moment they seem to be pretty busy with other things.

Republicans challenging Republicans

It was not supposed to be like this. Republican Party leaders in Washington and throughout the country railed against Obamacare for seven years, wanted to take a butcher’s knife to entitlements such as Medicaid, and most of all, planned major changes in the tax code to make the rich richer.

We need a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, they said. With substantial stirred-up opposition to Obamacare and the considerable help of gerrymandered districts, with some voter suppression thrown in for good measure, the Republicans in 2010 won the House.  In the subsequent elections they increased their majority to the largest number for the party in decades.

We need a Republican majority in the Senate, they said. As in House races, the significant opposition to Obamacare fueled the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

And finally, we need a Republican president to sign all the great roll-back legislation that will be passed, they said. With 80,000 well-positioned votes in three key states and with some help from Vladimir Putin, the party elected Donald Trump president.  So finally all the pieces of the puzzle were assembled to legislate a conservative revolution.

By changing the rules of the Senate the Republicans were able to put a far-right justice on the Supreme Court. Trump has signed executive orders by the dozens, but most of them were for show.  Cabinet members who have best demonstrated their mettle by a go-around-the-table show of ass-kissing were appointed.  Some of them still seem to have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time.  It reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles when Governor LePetomane signed legislation creating the William J. LePetomane Gambling Casino for the Insane and then complained that one of the members of his cabinet didn’t give him an honorific “harrumph.”

The one Trump appointee who seems to be having a grand old time, from his point of view, is Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt. He is moving at break-neck speed to do everything he can to turn over “environmental protection” to the oil and coal companies and the Brothers Koch.

When it comes to real legislating, however, 2017 has so far not been a bang-up year for the Party. House Republicans failed in their first attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, and then just squeaked by in passing the bill that even Trump described as “mean,” a bill that had the support of 16 percent of the American people.

Now it is the Senate’s turn. The bill that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed on the table is not any more popular than the House version.  The two wings of the Party have spent the past two weeks staking out their positions and sniping at the other side.  The Independence Day recess seems to have made it even less likely that a bill can be passed and sent to Trump before the August recess.  (Doesn’t it seem that all the congressional recesses make them appear like an elementary school?)

The dreamers like Speaker Paul Ryan still talk like everything is going as planned, with tax reform and infrastructure spending teed up and ready to proceed just as soon as the “repeal and replace” bill is taken care of. I doubt that Ryan, McConnell or other party leaders really think they can thread all of the needles that need to be threaded to get all that legislation through.

As important as those priorities may be, they will get trumped by two more, at this time, more important, urgent, can’t possibly be delayed issues. Raising the debt ceiling and passing a 2018 federal budget cannot be put off for long, and as Trump might say, they are complicated issues.  Who knew?

In both the upcoming debt ceiling and budget debates the Republican Party’s two bases will be challenging one another severely. The far-right, having grown comfortable with the luxury of not being in control of all the levers of government, may want to use the two financial issues to impose their machete-like will on domestic spending and will insist on major cuts as their price for support.  The establishment wing of the party, particularly those representing urban and suburban constituencies, will resist that approach.

We have seen this show before. After the two wings of the Republican Party fail to agree on the debt ceiling and the budget, the despised House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will be brought in to rescue the whatever limited number of Republican members of Congress who are prepared to raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget.  This is why John Boehner is sitting somewhere at pool side, with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of merlot in the other.

So that is a summary of how Republicans are challenging Republicans in Washington. There seems to be an even more interesting intramural party show playing out far removed from Washington.

In Kansas the Republican controlled State Legislature overrode vetoes of new taxes and spending by Governor and soon-to-be-ambassador-to-somewhere-far-removed-from-Topeka Sam Brownback. Basically they are reversing Brownback’s let-a-state-show-how-real-Republican-tax-cutting-philosophy can work in practice.  What’s the matter with Kansas?

Similar challenges and legislative fights have also broken out in other states including Arkansas and South Carolina.

Even more interesting than the state legislative challenges is the response of states around the country to the request by Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for extensive data about voters’ names, middle names or initials, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, party registration, voting history, portions of voters’ social security numbers and other assorted things such as felony convictions and military status.

In one form or another forty-four states thus far, including those managed by Republicans as well as those managed by Democrats, are declining to provide any information other than what is already available on the websites of appropriate state offices, usually the secretaries of state. The Commission effort is being led by the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has made a career out of conjuring up false voter fraud theories and then pushing efforts to suppress voting.

Some of the states’ responses to the Kobach request for the data have been just polite denials. Others, however, have been more energetic.  My favorite was the answer from the Republican Secretary of State in Mississippi, Delbert Hosemann, who told Kobach and company that they “can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

The thought of all the requested data being funneled into some computer server in the White House is frightening. I could see at a future Trump-Putin meeting (okay, I couldn’t see it, just imagine it) where Trump shakes Putin’s hand and slips him something as Trump mumbles “you’ll like what you find on this flash drive, Vlad.”

The skirmishes that have occurred in Washington concerning proposed legislation have mostly seen Republicans acting politely to one another and to Trump. How that might change if the key first year of the Trump administration fades away with no legislative achievements will be very interesting.

But even more interesting is how Republicans in the states are standing up to and defying Trump and his Commission. This action will probably not be replicated in other matters, but open differences at this stage are rather remarkable.

Democrats have much more of a history of intra-party fights and there will be some new fighting coming up. But having the Republicans control all the levers of power and then dividing up into two openly warring factions is a fascinating political development.  Democrats are warned:  do not overdose on schadenfreude.