Campaign contributions of local lobbyists; Justice Department prosecution of election law violations

A previous post (May 13, below) dealt with local businesses and organizations who retained state and/local lobbyists in 2014.  A second post (May 26, below) reviewed the lobbyist firms as well the local individuals who own or work for those firms.  Today’s post concerns campaign contributions from the principals of the firms who have a local connection.

A primary way in which lobbyists deal with legislators and executive offices is through campaign contributions. This post is primarily a “what we know when we do some digging” post.

Money from lobbyists to election candidates can come from personal accounts; firm accounts; or, in the case of at least a few local lobbyists, from previous campaign funds of their own.

New York State law allows retired elected officials as well as candidates for office to retain remaining campaign funds after they retire, or, in the case of unsuccessful candidates, lose the office they sought. There are some differences with handling left-over campaign funds when someone is a judicial candidate as well as restrictions concerning personal use of campaign funds.  Manhattan United States Attorney 1f1fPreet Bhahara’s investigative work includes issues involving personal use.

When a retired elected official becomes a lobbyist he may have an extra power tool in his tool box in the form of leftover campaign funds. It certainly helps to ratchet up the amount of money that the lobbyist can donate.

Keep in mind that such funds were collected many years ago. It has been a while since these folks ran their last campaign.  It’s unlikely to think that the people and businesses who donated to those campaigns long gone by ever thought of or intended that their money would someday in the future help someone develop and maintain a lobbyist business.  This, however, is all legal in New York State.

The previous posts on the subject of local lobbyists highlighted the activities of some local heavyweight former political officeholders who have maintained unused campaign funds:

  • Former State Senator and Mayor Tony Masiello, who last ran for office in 2001.  His campaign fund still totals $317,858 as of last January.  The campaign account lists $76,111 in interest and dividends receipts from Counsel Financial Services during 2013 and 2014.  Masiello is president of Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese and Associates.
  • Former Buffalo Comptroller and Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, who last ran for office in 2003.  His campaign fund still totals $310,423 as of last January.  He is a managing director of Park Strategies.
  • Former State Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, who last ran for office in 2002. It took until July, 2011 to exhaust his campaign fund.  He is a partner at Patricia Lynch Associates.

While recognizing that there are others in the lobby firms that I have highlighted that may donated campaign funds, I have focused on the principals of firms who have WNY political roots and substantial income from local clients. The eight individuals leading these firms donated at least $154,246 to local and statewide candidates and committees during the 2013-14 election cycle.  Here is a summary of contributions from these key players:

  • Friends of Anthony Masiello — $44,400
  • Anthony M. Masiello — $12,414
  • Victor Martucci — $16,184
  • Carl Calabrese — $1,525
  • Friends of Joel Giambra – $39,450
  • Joel Giambra — $2,000
  • Earl Wells — $21,725
  • Paul Tokasz — $9,700
  • Jack O’Donnell — $6,100

Here is a summary of the top 10 local or statewide politicians the money was donated to in 2013-14:

  • Various Cuomo and Hochul committees — $41,500
  • Byron Brown — $12,814
  • Senator Jeff Klein — $9,000
  • Mark Grisanti — $8,950
  • Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC) — $7,100
  • Mark Poloncarz — $6,500 (of note, $5,000 was from Friends of Joel Giambra)
  • Erie County Democratic Committee — $5,600
  • Erie County Conservatives — $5,000
  • Sean Ryan — $4,500
  • Tim Kennedy — $4,400

And here’s some analysis of the donations:

  • The Erie County Republican Party received less than half of what the Erie County Democratic Party received ($2,650 versus $5,600)
  • The Niagara County Republican Party received $3,000
  • Candidates for the State Legislature received a total of $32,907 in donations, spread over 16 candidates
  • 12 of the 16 state legislative candidates were incumbents
  • Among the 12 incumbents receiving campaign donations, 9 are members of the majority party in the Assembly or Senate
  • Of the 16, 9 were Democrats (who received a total of $17,000) and 7 were Republicans ($15,907)
  • Judicial candidates received $6,225; judges, of course, cannot be “lobbied”
  • Candidates for the Erie County Legislature received a total of $1,425 spread over five candidates
  • Candidates for the Buffalo Common Council received a total of $725 spread over four candidates

The Justice Department steps up activity on political corruption

In the ICYMI department, here is an interesting recent story from the Washington Post concerning the United States Justice Department’s prosecution of election law violations: