The post on this blog last Thursday, “Team Pigeon back together for a judicial race”; Alan Bedenko’s post Monday; and Bob McCarthy’s article in the News on Saturday all indicate, in one form or another, questions with the financial disclosure report filed with the State Board of Elections by the Brown for Family Court committee for the Michele Brown campaign. The Brown committee problems also exist for the committee of Clarence Town Supervisor David Hartzell and West Seneca town supervisor candidate Christine Bove. So the question is, what happens now?
The mess that was and is the work of the WNY Progressive Caucus, which I refer to as Pigeongate and Alan has labelled Preetsmas, was originally a public relations issue that did not become a real problem for those involved, meaning a legal issue, until recently. While Alan and others reported the 2013 goings-on as they were happening, what was lacking was the sense of urgency that occurs when the role of the FBI, State Police and the State Attorney General was made known. Nothing focuses attention like a good old-fashioned raid or two or three.
The activity of Team Pigeon in and on behalf of the campaign of Michele Brown is remarkable for its hutzpah considering the legal activity that is swirling.
Bedenko’s Monday post highlights two important legal issues relating to the Brown, Hartzell and Bove campaigns:
- Limits on what a judicial candidate can donate to another committee and what committees can receive as contributions.
- A political committee acting as a business, selling services to other committees.
The New York State Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (Section 100.5(2)(v)) state that a judicial candidate may:
purchase two tickets to, and attend, politically sponsored dinners and other functions, provided that the cost of the ticket to such dinner or other function shall not exceed the proportionate cost of the dinner or function. The cost of the ticket shall be deemed to constitute the proportionate cost of the dinner or function if the cost of the ticket is $250 or less. A candidate may not pay more than $250 for a ticket unless he or she obtains a statement from the sponsor of the dinner or function that the amount paid represents the proportionate cost of the dinner or function.
The Brown committee reported in their July 15th disclosure that they paid a total of $5,568 to the committee of Clarence Supervisor David Hartzell for “petitions,” meaning presumably for the circulation of Brown petitions. The Hartzell financial disclosure reports payments totaling $3,171.72 to “consultants” to the committee. We don’t know if the “consultants” only circulated petitions, but assuming they did, then the payment to the committee for petitions exceeded the reported expenses of the work by $2,396. That appears to be the reportable “profit” of the Hartzell committee. Whether the Brown committee issues an IRS 1099 for the service is not something that is reportable in state political financial filings. If Hartzell reports the payments as income then state election reports the committee files next year should indicate that taxes were paid on the income.
The Brown committee also reported that they made two contributions to Friends of Bove totaling $1,500. The payments were not reported as being for petitions.
So it would seem that the following things need to occur:
- The Brown for Family Court committee needs to pull back or the Hartzell committee needs to return the payment of some portion of the $5,568 paid to the Hartzell committee for “petitions” that is over and above the amount of the cost of Hartzell’s “consultants” as reported in Hartzell’s financial report for July 15th in the “Other Monetary” category of receipts. Those entries indicate the receipt of that amount in four separate payments, but nothing is filled in for the explanation of what the income was for. I wonder how a committee reports that it is a vendor.
- The Bove committee money from the Brown committee was listed in the Brown report as contributions, which also exceed the dollar limit of such activity from a judicial campaign. The dollar amount of the contributions may in any case exceed the limit on a contribution to the Bove campaign. So the Bove committee also needs to return all or most of those contributions. We do not know how they might report those contributions since, as of July 29, 2015, there is no July 15th report on file from the Bove committee to the State Board of Elections.
It is possible that the District Attorney’s office could investigate these issues. The Erie County Board of Elections could also investigate. An aggrieved party related to the election for Family Court could raise the issue with the DA or the BOE. The committees could file amended reports. Or none of the above might occur. In which case we have Pigeongate/Preetsmas starting all over again.
Bebenko’s post today quotes Brown campaign counsel Joe Makowski as saying that what I posted last Thursday is “all wrong” and that I “made it up.” I made up nothing. It came from Brown’s financial disclosure as well as Hartzell’s. You can look it up.
We have to assume for now that the Brown disclosure accurately reports how Brown acquired her campaign funds and what was spent. Reporting it, however, does not mean that it is correct or legal. But the reporting is certainly better than what we have seen or not seen in WNY Progressive Caucus or WNY Freedom reports.
The next financial report that is required for filing with the State Board of Elections is due August 10th, so the respective committees could correct and clarify all of this with some accurate bookkeeping. Lots of people will be watching for those reports. Stay tuned.