The weather may be up and down around here, but the political atmosphere is getting pretty hot. Just when it looked like the 2015 local political scene would be unbelievably boring, along comes Pigeongate. Snaky political intrigue, money thrown around everywhere, politicos running to the best superstar defense attorneys that they can hire – this story certainly rates a “-gate” suffix.
This is a story that seems to have been going on forever; at least 15 years as I count it. But all of a sudden the whole thing has exploded.
Alan Bedenko has done a thorough job this week laying out many aspects of the whole thing (http://buffalopundit.com/2015/06/04/on-the-fourth-day-of-preetsmas). As one of the headlines on his story labeled it, there are a lot of tentacles to this thing.
I took a look at the Board of Elections filings for Steve Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus (let’s shorten it to WNYPC) and it does seem to read like a cheap novel. I have seen hundreds of these reports over the years, and prepared a few myself, and I must say that while the cast of character is familiar, their creativity is sort of unique.
There is no obvious connection to Steve Casey or Chris Grant in the WNYPC documents, so I assume the tie-ins for the three of them are more related to activities in other campaigns, maybe having to do with campaign materials production and strategy, probably under the guise of Herd Solutions. I continue to hear about political leaders making referrals to Grant for campaign work, as recently as in the last month or so. Hard to believe that folks would do that in this climate.
This post will simply walk you through Pigeongate with some side commentary, like when they run a movie on TV with those popup “story notes” or “script notes,” etc. to provide you with a little background on what the actor was thinking, or why they shot a scene in a particular way.
But to introduce this review, you need to know (I’m sure many readers already do) something about a political funding scheme in New York State that helps define the level of political corruption we have been witnessing. I’m referring to limited liability companies, or LLCs.
Denise Jewell Gee last week wrote a News column explaining LLCs and the damage that they do in the state (www.buffalonews.com/columns/denise-jewell-gee/new-york-must-act-now-to-close-loophole-on-campaign-donations-20150531). There is a limit to campaign donations in New York State to candidates or committees from a corporation, $5,000 annually. Contributions from individuals can be higher, up to $60,800 in statewide candidates. But in 1996 the State Board of Elections decided to treat LLCs as individuals rather than as corporations, which allows larger contributions. Anyone can set up a LLC for $200, and you can have as many as you want. As the Bedenko article points out, it’s easy to set up a whole bunch of them to raise the amount donated. And to say the least, the word “transparency” is not a defining characteristic of LLCs. Keep in mind, however, that LLCs’ political activities are legal at this time in New York State.
LLCs play a role in Steve Pigeon’s WNYPC. Here’s a rundown of the receipts of the WNYPC, with some accompanying story notes:
- A total of $3,000 in two payments from Joseph Carosella, a Niagara Falls attorney
- $2,500 from Arthur Musarra; there is an Arthur Musarra who, according to Linkedin, is a legislative staffer at the Erie County Legislature – don’t know if this is the same person
- $2,000 from Paul Joyce, a shareholder at Colucci & Gallaher
- $300 from Friends of Wes Moore, a Frank Max-Pigeon backed candidate for the Legislature in 2013
- A total of $7,250 in three contributions from two committees affiliated with Frank Max; Max was Pigeon’s candidate for Democratic County Chairman in 2012; Kristy Mazurek was his campaign manager
- A total of $85,000 in two contributions from the (Tim) Kennedy for Senate committee. Except that his committee only identifies a $45,000 contribution. The remaining $40,000, the News had previously reported, somehow came from a dormant or inactive committee that Kennedy had when he was a member of the County Legislature
- $2,500 from Buffalo Staffing, which has had some legal issues
- A total of $30,000 in two contributions from AJ Wholesale. This appears to be an Aaron J. Pierce company (The News and Alan Bedenko have written about him recently.) These donations come under the “Corporate” section of WNYPC’s 2013 10 Day Post-Primary Report. The annual political contribution limit for corporations is $5,000
- $5,000 from Palladium Inc. Perhaps it was spelled wrong in the financial report, because there is a medical company named Palladian, located at 2732 Transit Road, West Seneca, and it so happens that …
- $5,000 was from received from Cycaz LLC, business activity unknown, which happens to also be located at 2732 Transit Road, West Seneca
- $25,000 from the Bricklayers union (International Union Bac Local 3), although as Bedenko points out, the actual contribution seems to be in question
- $5,000 from Buffalo City Center Venture, located at 333 Ganson Street in Buffalo. Two LLCs use the Ganson Street address, Buffalo City Center Development LLC and Buffalo City Center Leasing LLC
- And then there is Steve Pigeon’s money:
- A total of $6,580 in two contributions
- A loan of $20,000 on August 30, 2013
- A loan of $30,000 on September 3, 2013
- A loan of $10,000 on September 6, 2013
- A loan of $30,000 on September 8, 2013 (the primary election that year was on September 10)
- Section 14.114 of the State Election Law states “a loan made to a candidate or political committee … shall be deemed, to the extent not repaid by the date of the primary, general or special election, as the case may be, a contribution by such person, firm, association or corporation.” Whether Pigeon ever expected to be repaid for those loans is something only he can answer.
As for the reported expenses of the WNYPC:
- A total of $32,359 to political consultants Augustine Olivencia, Dan Jones, Dave Pfaff, Eddie Stokes and Michael Darby
- $57,590 to Buying Time LLC for TV ads
- Minor campaign contributions to a candidate and a committee totaling $110
- $3,426 to DDM Digital Imaging for campaign literature
- $10,699 to Gallagher Printing for campaign literature
- $13,665 to GIA Marketing for consulting
- $141 to M&T Bank for various fees and charges
- $102,000 to Marketing Tech for mail. Marketing Tech is still listed as a WNYPC liability in the amount of $15,000, so there must have been a dispute about something.
- $1,510 to Patriot Sign for campaign literature
- $2,780 to Printed Image or Printed Imaging for campaign literature
- $500 to Start to Finance
- $9,107 to the United States Postal Service
- $600 to VAN for robocalls
- $3,010 to WBBZ for radio
The total of reported expenses is $237,497.
A liability or loan shows up on the 2013 10 Day Post-Primary report in the amount of $25,000 from Landon LLC, which is a Pigeon LLC. There is no evidence that this loan or liability was paid and it does not show up in subsequent reports as a liability.
Since the State Board of Elections treats LLCs as people, there is an interesting question about LLCs in general and WNYPC’s use of contributions from LLCs in particular. Section 14-120 of the Election Law states (emphasis is mine):
No person shall in any name except his own, directly or indirectly, make a payment or a promise of payment to a … political committee … nor shall any such committee … knowingly receive a payment or promise of payment, or enter or cause the same to be entered in the accounts or records of such committee, in any name other than that of the person or persons by whom it is made.
A contributor who makes a political donation using a LLC usually hides behind some obscure name that no one knows or recognizes. So is that a violation of the Election Law?
Where Does It All Lead?
Who knows? The issues related to the WNYPC are clearly only a part of Pigeongate. Some of the reported receipts and expenses of the committee, as noted above, are questionable. The U.S. Attorney, the FBI, the State Attorney General and the State Police obviously have a much clearer picture.
There is also a great deal of speculation about the role that a prominent local developer may have played in all this. But that too will have to play itself out.
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