One of the premium local campaigns in the 2016 election will be the race for Erie County District Attorney. The contest is just starting, with interim DA Michael Flaherty jumping off with an impressive dollar total.
Political committees in the state must file updated financial reports by January 15th each year, reporting receipts, expenses and loans through January 11th.
Flaherty through January 11th had accumulated $313,697 in loans and contributions. A total of $16,780 was spent, the majority going to election consultants.
The County Democratic organization had anticipated endorsing County Judge Tim Franczyk for DA, but Franczyk bowed out. Two new candidates have emerged: current Town of Tonawanda Town Attorney and former assistant DA John Flynn and former assistant DA Mark Sacha, who was fired by former DA Frank Sedita. Sacha had the temerity to challenge Sedita’s judgment when Sedita declined to pursue allegations of Election Law violations by former Democratic County Chairman Steve Pigeon and his associates.
The size of Flaherty’s campaign account is designed to be your basic “shock and awe” volley. Former President Bush did that in the Iraqi war to end things quickly. Jeb Bush raised an impressive $100 million plus by last June for his campaign and related political action committees, expecting to scare away campaign opponents. It doesn’t seem to be working out quite as expected because Jeb! turned out to be pretty much a dud of a candidate. Money cannot buy everything.
At this point allow me to introduce a local political theory (majoring in political science pays sometimes!).
I call my theory “the Gallagher Rule.” It was observed last year by my friend Ray Gallagher, who noted it in the local judicial races in 2015.
This is the Gallagher Rule: a candidate for a judgeship has limited opportunities to raise money. Individuals and corporations have little to gain by trying to influence an election for judge. Therefore a candidate can go maybe two or three times to the local legal community for contributions, and most of those checks will be small. Party contributions will be fairly restrained, since the party does not gain much for electing someone a judge. After that, the candidate and his family need very, very deep pockets to provide the funds to run a competitive race for a judicial seat, because that will be the only place a candidate can go for big campaign bucks.
Last year’s election campaign for the new Erie County Family Court seat was a great affirmation of this theory. The Freedman, Brinkworth and Brown campaigns collectively depended on hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal and family money. And of course there was only one winner.
My view of the theory is that a district attorney election is also likely to be covered by the Gallagher Rule.
This all brings me back to the Flaherty campaign, which is the only one at this point that is operational. The Flynn and Sacha efforts will likely proceed over the next several months, but we will not see any financial filings from them until July 15. The same will apply if there is a Republican candidate. Former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco is reported to have been appointed, or is likely to be appointed, to head a Republican DA candidate search effort. Some have expressed the possibility of Vacco running for DA himself, but he does not seem likely to pull a Dick Cheney and conclude after the search is completed that he himself would be the best candidate.
Drilling down on Flaherty campaign receipts
An examination of Michael Flaherty’s campaign receipts thus far presents some interesting information, to wit:
- Of the $313,697 collected, $168,000 came in the form of loans. A total of $128,000 came from Flaherty himself and family members. There also were direct contributions of approximately $12,000 from Flaherty and family members. So that is $140,000 from the Flaherty family thus far – see the Gallagher Rule above.
- Another $40,000 was loaned to the campaign by James Eagan, who is involved in the management of the campaign.
- Under state law, loans to a campaign, if not re-paid prior to an election, convert to donations after the election (in this case, a likely September Democratic primary) is concluded. The Flaherty and family loans, if they convert to donations, will likely fall within family contribution limits. But in the case of the Eagan loan there could be a problem, since state law limits individual contributions to five cents per registered voter. In a September Democratic primary that would limit individual contributions to about $14,000.
- There are many familiar names on the individual contributors list. I do not have access to a roster of DA office staff, but since politically-active men and women have long been employed there it is evident the office is a major source of campaign funds for the interim DA.
- On January 4th Flaherty announced his leadership team in the DA office. Those named are among the larger individual contributors to Flaherty’s committee. They include:
- Donna Milling, first Assistant DA and chief ethics officer – contributed $2,000 thus far
- Paul Bonanno, chief of the Public Integrity Unit – contributed $2,000
- Michael Hillary, chief of the Appeals Bureau – contributed $500
- Colleen Curtin Gable, chief of the Homicide Bureau – contributed $1,750
- Christopher Belling, chief trial counsel – contributed $3,600
- Mara McCabe, chief of the Buffalo City Court Bureau – not listed as directly contributing
- Justin Wallens, chief of the Animal Cruelty Unit – contributed $750
- Lynette Reda, chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau – contributed $250
The campaign accounts of other likely candidates in 2016
Beyond the election for District Attorney, there will be elections for state legislative seats, as well as campaigns for the House of Representatives. Senator Chuck Schumer’s seat is also up. This may be the last time you see a reference to that campaign in this blog for the remainder of 2016.
The following is a summary of campaign account balances for local state legislators:
- Assemblyman John Ceretto (145th District) $8,478
- Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (144th) $7,627
- Assemblyman David DiPietro (147th) $65,675
- Assemblyman Andy Goodell (150th) $40,692
- Assemblyman Michael Kearns (142nd) $5,009
- Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (141st) $91,155
- Assemblyman Sean Ryan (149th) $148,607
- Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (140th) $372,712
- Assemblyman Ray Walter (146th) $10,318
- Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak (143rd) $1,915
- Senator Patrick Gallivan (59th District) $74,082
- Senator Tim Kennedy (63rd) $303,021
- Senator Robert Ortt (62nd) $121,110
- Senator Marc Panepinto (60th) $140,922
- Senator Mike Ranzenhofer (61st) $654,715
- Senator Catherine Young (57th) $467,867
No names have yet come forth as challengers for House Members Brian Higgins or Chris Collins. Aside from the fact that the districts are two of the most heavily Democratic (Higgins) or Republican (Collins) seats in New York State, the amounts in the Congressmen’s campaign accounts will likely keep opponents away. Higgins has $651,197 in his account. Collins has $873,419, which includes a loan of $500,000. The financials were current as of September 30, 2015. The House candidates have until January 31st to file updates.
And lest we forget
There have been a few political committees we have been following. Here are some highlights:
- Justice Frank Sedita – no committee was created and no financial report filed for his campaign for State Supreme Court; he has $17,141 in his DA campaign account, which he did report on. The State Election Law, Section 14-104(1), states the following:
Any candidate for election to public office … shall file statements sworn, or subscribed and bearing a form notice that false statements made therein are punishable as a class A misdemeanor … as to all moneys or other valuable things, paid, given, expended or promised by him to aid his own nomination or election … or in lieu thereof, any such candidate may file such a sworn statement at the first filing period, on a form prescribed by the state board of elections that such candidate has made no such expenditures and does not intend to make any such expenditures, except through a political committee authorized by such candidate pursuant to this article. A committee authorized by such a candidate may fulfill all of the filing requirements of this act on behalf of such candidate. A candidate can be exempted from filing reports (Section 14-124 of the Election Law) by submitting a signed and notarized form (CF-05) indicating that he has not received or spent more than $50 on his campaign. Update: as of January 20, 2016, Frank Sedita has not filed a CF-05 form.
- Justice Emilio Colaiavoco – $27,641 remaining in his campaign account
- Former Senator George Maziarz — $945,720; expenses since last report of $28,966, the majority of which are for attorney fees
- Former Mayor Anthony Masiello $256,431
- Former County Executive Joel Giambra $288,748
- U.S. Justice Department official Denise O’Donnell $300,228
- The Right Democratic Team (Cheektowaga) – no report filed since September 2015