Certainly some interesting political developments yesterday. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert indicted; former State Senate Majority Dean Skelos indicted; and the FBI, state troopers and state Attorney General staff search the homes of Steve Pigeon, Steve Casey and Chris Grant. And oh yeah, the Sabres finally hired a new coach and former Governor George Pataki announced his candidacy for president. It’s amazing that the News could cram it all into this morning’s edition.
This post concentrates on the local angle – the Pigeon-Casey-Grant story. This is primarily a “what we know” or “what we know if we dig a little” post. There are a lot of facts and history involved in all of this.
First a point of order and a disclaimer. The point of order is that none of the three politicos has been arrested, indicted or charged with anything. And even if that does happen, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Pigeon has repeatedly labelled accusations against him a “political witch hunt.” This post will just lay out some facts and history. As Pete Seeger sings in “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” “well, I’m not going to point any moral; I’ll leave that for yourself…”
And the disclaimer. I’ve known Steve Pigeon for over thirty years. We’ve never been what I would call friends. I supported Dave Swarts when he challenged Steve for the Democratic chairmanship in 2000. In 2002 I ran against Steve for chairman along with Len Lenihan and Jim Keane, and of course Len won.
I worked with Steve Casey for about three years when I was county budget director and Steve was an assistant to County Executive Dennis Gorski. No problems there.
I’ve had a couple “hi, how are you’s” with Chris Grant when I was at Canisius and he was visiting some of the political science department down the hall. My service on the County Control Board overlapped Chris Collins’ term as county executive. Collins and I had some disagreements along the way.
Some Facts and History
Here are some things to ponder as the Pigeon-Casey-Grant story continues to unfold:
- There is a long history of complaints by Pigeon’s opponents about his campaign tactics, primarily involving money. Just a few campaigns of note:
- In 2002 Dave Swarts had a Democratic primary challenge in his re-election campaign for county clerk. Pigeon supported Fran Pordum. Pordum reported about $30,000 in spending, but about $300,000 in TV ads and other campaign materials showed up in one form or another for him. There was briefly an investigation by the District Attorney’s office, but nothing ever came of it.
- In 2003 Chuck Swanick beat Kevin Hardwick for re-election to the county legislature. Again, thousands of dollars of campaign spending appeared on Swanick’s behalf with no evidence of where the money came from.
- In 2012 Pigeon’s “Progressive Caucus” spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to defeat Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues for their county legislative seats. One hundred thousand dollars of that money came from Pigeon himself. Betty Jean held on, but Hogues was not so lucky.
- I wish that I could be more specific about all this spending, but that is the problem – there is no reported public record about where the money came from or what was totally spent in some of these campaigns.
- In at least the 2002 and 2003 campaigns noted above, Steve Casey, while working for then State Senator Byron Brown, was an officer in Pigeon’s army.
- Where did the money come from? Steve Pigeon knows. Who else does? Are they talking about it with anyone?
- Erie County Board of Elections Commissioners Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr actively pursued an investigation into Pigeon’s campaign finance activities, but they had a problem getting the District Attorney’s office to consider the matter. They eventually passed their work on to the State Board of Elections, but nothing much has come of that yet.
- Former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha wrote a report to District Attorney Frank Sedita in 2009 outlining legal issues concerning Pigeon’s campaign finance activities, suggesting criminality. Mr. Sedita found no merit in Sacha’s report and he was later dismissed from the District Attorney’s staff.
- Pigeon several weeks ago, according to a Bob McCarthy report in the News, showed Bob his tax returns to demonstrate that he had the wherewithal to come up with $100,000 in campaign donations in 2013. Steve says he earned that income with his now former law firm and from consultant clients (Buffalo News, February 21. 2015). The question is, did Steve have some role in how the law firm earned the big bucks that they were able to pay him?
- Steve got by with a little help from his friends. State Senator Tim Kennedy reportedly raised/contributed about $80,000 to Pigeon’s 2013 campaign efforts. A lot of money for a state senator to pass on to the campaigns of others. (Buffalo News, May 3, 2015)
- County Legislators Grant and Hogues as well as Mark Sacha asked Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to take up the investigation of the Pigeon’s campaign activities. There was no response.
- Speaking of Senator Kennedy, Bob McCarthy wrote last February that Kennedy has paid $86,000 in campaign funds to the law firm of Terry Connors since 2012. (Buffalo News, February 1, 2015) This probably was not payment for any political work on Connors’ part.
- Congressman Collins is quoted by the News as saying that Steve Pigeon had nothing to do with his congressional campaigns, and there is no reason to doubt that. But Collins chose his words carefully because he was certainly aware of how his assistant in the county executive’s office, Chris Grant, worked with Steve Pigeon and Steve Casey in 2010 to deliver a working majority in the county legislature for Collins’ benefit. Jobs were provided on the legislative staff to people associated with Steve Casey. There was nothing illegal about that, but the point is, Grant worked hand-in-hand with the two Steves.
- Chris Grant was (is?) a principal in Herd Solutions, a political consulting firm. In 2013 he became Chris Collins’ chief of staff. In March 2013 he filed a new employee Disclosure Statement with the House of Representatives stating that he had $154,366 in income through Herd Solutions in 2012.
- One or more potential Republican judicial candidates in 2014 were encouraged by party leadership to use Grant for the preparation of campaign materials.
- The United States House of Representatives Committee of Ethics requires House staff members who make approximately $120,000 or more per year (actually $120,749 in 2014) to file a Financial Disclosure statement by May 15 each year. To quote from the Committee’s guidelines:
Financial Disclosure Reports include information about the source, type, amount, or value of the incomes of Members, officers, certain employees of the U.S. House of Representatives and related offices, and candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.
These reports are filed with the Clerk of the House as required by Title I of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended. 5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 101 et seq.
Section 8 of the STOCK Act of 2012, as amended, requires the Clerk of the House of Representatives to provide online public access to financial disclosure reports filed by Members of Congress and candidates for Congress.
Note that the law does not provide for public access to financial disclosures of Congressional staff members. The website LegiStorm, which tracks salaries and other information about congressional staff members such as their financial disclosures, reports only Grant’s New Hire disclosure in 2013 and some financial investments in 2013 and 2014. He may have filed detailed Financial Disclosure Statements by May 15, 2014 and 2015, but there is no public record of that.
- According to LegiStorm, Grant was paid $119,111 in federal fiscal year 2013, which ended on September 30, 2013; and $159,999.96 in federal fiscal year 2014.
What Might Also Come Up
No one knows how any of this may come out, but there could be some collateral damage. I’m only speculating here, not reporting or predicting:
- Senator Tim Kennedy and Kristy Mazurek were heavily involved in the work of the “Progressive Caucus” in 2012. Does any of this spill over to them?
- District Attorney Frank Sedita is reportedly in line for a bi-partisan endorsement for State Supreme Court later this year. Will his previous defense of Pigeon’s activities affect that nomination if charges are brought against Pigeon?
- In the “what we’ve heard” department, Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy may have been a partner of sorts in Chris Grant’s political consulting work. Is there any truth to that?
- Steve Pigeon’s Facebook page includes a picture of Steve with Tom Golisano and Bill Clinton. Might some editing be needed on that page?