The Buffalo News’ Susan Schulman did a nice job with Sunday’s feature story and two-page spread on the various campaign activities of Steve Pigeon. In many ways, though, it is just a compilation of the same information that this blog and Alan Bedenko (particularly Alan’s work, which started several years before mine) have produced over and over. There certainly is a treasure trove of materials to work with.
It takes a lot of time and thought to dive into the information that exists in the now-electronic records of the State Board of Elections. Been there, done that. But looking at the publicly filed records only scratches the surface. It is like thinking you understand how Congress works by reading the Congressional Record.
In acting as a chronicler of the public record, the News story missed some opportunities to really explain the way Steve Pigeon has operated. So here are some addendums and footnotes to the wonderful world of Steve Pigeon’s campaign finances.
Ms. Schulman does a service by noting that one of the ways Pigeon has funneled cash to candidates over the years has been by having a checking account set up in his and his bookkeeper’s names with the bookkeeper’s address. According to Schulman, nearly $27,000 has been so processed over the past 12 years.
But here is something that might have added some substance to those facts. 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.
So when political donations went out under Alexandra Schmid’s name using Pigeon’s money the “True Name” section of the Election Law comes into question. For that matter, the use of the Limited Liabilty Corporations (LLCs) raises the same question since LLCs usually hide behind some obscure name that no one knows or recognizes. In some cases the LLC business actually is not in business.
The News story highlights many of the sources of the campaign funds used for Pigeon’s political objectives, but they do not really dig into what the intent or motivation might have been for those contributions. A more thorough look at the public records would indicate things like the $30,000 in corporate contributions from AJ Wholesale to Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus in 2013. The $5,000 legal limit on corporate contributions was far exceeded there.
The News story notes the $90,000 “loan” that Pigeon provided to the WNY Progressive Caucus in 2013. Loans that are not repaid by Election Day convert to donations. Pigeon’s loans were not re-paid. His $90,000 contribution likely exceeded legal limits.
More to the story
The News story examines public records, adding some Sergeant Shultz-like “I know nothing” denials from those whose campaigns Pigeon supported. At least Ms. Schmid seemed to offer an explanation. But what the News did not get into is the campaign finance projects of Steve Pigeon that you cannot find in public records because they were never reported.
In Fran Pordum’s Pigeon-inspired Democratic primary campaign for County Clerk in 2002 tens of thousands of dollars came seemingly from out of nowhere to pay for Pordum’s television ads and mailers. Actually they came from a consultant in Washington. David Swarts’ campaign complained about the activity. District Attorney Frank Clark’s office conducted a brief investigation, but determined there was insufficient information to pursue a complete investigation. The campaign ended without a full public accounting of what Pigeon had raised or spent for Pordum.
The same was true of efforts on behalf of Chuck Swanick’s campaign for re-election to the County Legislature in 2003, and in the campaign of Barbara Kavanaugh against Sam Hoyt in 2008. Flyers and other campaign materials came out of nowhere, with no accounting of who paid for what.
A complete report of such collective campaign financial activities is not written down anywhere. It does not exist. The activities corrupted the political process, and at least so far, it was done without holding people accountable for their actions. These are the sorts of things I referred to in my last post when I noted that if a prosecution of Pigeon’s activities were to be limited only to the WNY Progressive Caucus’ activities then a great deal of even more valuable information would be ignored.
And then there is this: what has been Pigeon’s win-loss record for the stuff he has been doing? He prides himself on his political acumen, but nearly every single candidate Pigeon has supported over the past fifteen years lost. Among his “wins” were the likes of his former boss, State Senator Pedro Espada, convicted on corruption charges not long after receiving Pigeon’s help through the “Responsible New York” independent expenditure/political action committee.
Claiming to be a loyal Democrat, his efforts have often been directed to Republican and Reform/Independence Party candidates.
The Michalek-Pigeon bribery matter was likely the kick-off of more to come that centers around Pigeon and the money he controlled and spent. The political process in Western New York can only benefit from this work.