Last Tuesday’s post included among other things some reporting on the campaign financial information filed with the State Board of Elections for political committees in the state. One of the reports deserves a more detailed examination.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has been in office since 2012. He has run three times for Comptroller. At one time Mychajliw’s ambition was to run for County Executive. The Republican Party looked favorably on that potential campaign. But things changed in the summer of 2018.
The indictment of former Congressman Chris Collins that year ultimately destroyed Collins’ political career but it opened up a new political option for several other politicians, among them Mychajliw.
Collins’ political zigzagging that year led his party and potential replacement candidates on a wild goose chase that eventually led back to square one, with Collins standing for re-election. He wound up squeaking by Democrat Nate McMurray by the slimmest of margins.
During the fall of 2018 Mychajliw followed Collins like a shadow to political events throughout the eight county NY27 district. He saw himself as a potential replacement for Collins if Collins either lost or had to resign his position during his new term in office that began in 2019.
Mychajliw throughout 2019 acted like a congressional candidate, even though Collins remained in office for most of the year. He traveled to Washington to meet with Republican Party congressional leaders and the right-wing Club for Growth. As noted in a previous post, Mychajliw used funds from his state authorized political committee account for his comptroller races to pay for one or more trips to Washington and meetings there in connection with his upcoming congressional campaign. Using state campaign account funds for a federal campaign is generally not allowed. You can collect corporate contributions for a state or local campaign but not in a federal election, so you cannot easily transfer money in a state account into a federal campaign account. Or you could not properly account for your spending.
After Collins resigned and became a convicted felon in October 2019 Mychajliw stepped up his interest in NY27, as did other possible candidates including State Senators Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt as well as attorney Beth Parlato. Unlike the others, however, Mychajliw did not create a Federal Election Commission account for the campaign in the fall of 2019, waiting instead until January 22, 2020. Governor Andrew Cuomo eventually set a special election for the NY27 seat on April 28, later pushed back to June 23rd, resulting in a political doubleheader of a special election to complete Collins’ term and simultaneously a Republican primary to select the party’s November candidate.
Mychajliw lost out to Jacobs for the Republican nomination in the special election but set his sights on the primary, where he was joined by Jacobs and Parlato. Mychajliw’s fundraising for the congressional seat lagged far behind Jacobs, Ortt, Parlato and Democrat Nate McMurray. The numbers are as follows:
• Jacobs — $1,617,897, which included personal loans of $511,000
• Parlato — $680,175, which included personal loans of $258,500
• Ortt, who dropped out of the race — $210,565, which included a personal loan, subsequently repaid, of $55,000; he also refunded $44,835 in contributions
• Mychajliw — $109,116
• McMurray — $804,018
As he struggled to put funds together to finance a pandemic-era campaign that would be fought primarily with television and social media ads, Mychajliw’s efforts went off the rails.
Nearly $9,000 or eight percent of the total amount raised by Mychajliw came from three ranking members of his comptroller office staff. Raising money from staff is hardly unique. Multiple candidates who are incumbent officeholders have done so. The manner in which Mychajliw collected that federal campaign money from his staff, however, is unusual.
As reported to the State Board of Elections on July 15, three Deputy Erie County Comptrollers received payments from the Taxpayers for Stefan committee between January 31 and March 27, 2020 for “Office” expenses. While an explanation was provided for every other expense item in that financial report, there was no explanation for those three payments. The three deputies, and the amounts and dates of the payments received from the Taxpayers for Stefan committee were:
• Gregory Gach — $3,250 on January 31, 2020
• Christopher Musialowski — $1,540 on January 31, 2020. The address registered for Taxpayers for Stefan is the same as Musialowski’s address.
• Scott Kroll — $4,000 on March 27, 2020
Subsequently two of those men and the wife of the third (Musialowski) made donations to the federally reported Stefan for Congress committee in amounts nearly exactly the same as the payment received by the three deputy comptroller from the Taxpayers for Stefan account. Here are those numbers and the dates that the congressional contributions were recorded:
• Gregory Gach — $3,250 on February 3, 2020
• Ellen Musialowski — $1,540 on February 3, 2020
• Scott Kroll — $4,100 on March 30, 2020
The similarities of the state political committee and the federal election committee transactions might suggest that payments to the three deputy comptrollers were in effect transfers into Mychajliw’s congressional campaign account from his state-reported campaign account. As previously noted, transfers cannot generally be directly made between a state account and a federal account because state accounts often comingle individual and corporate donations to a campaign, and corporate donations are not allowed in federal campaigns.
Mychajliw campaign’s actions where payments were made to his office staff for undefined expenses while donations were then almost immediately donated into his federal campaign account is, at the least, a matter of questionable judgment.
There is also the question of exceeding campaign limits. An individual in 2020 can donate $2,800 to a federal election campaign, although sometimes donors will exceed that limit with the understanding that part of the contribution is for a primary campaign and part is for the general election. Mychajliw’s campaign ended with the primary. There were nine Mychajliw donors who exceeded the primary campaign contribution limit by an aggregate of more than $25,000. His last Federal Election Commission report through June 30 shows cash on hand of $34,758. Since Mychajliw’s campaign ended with the primary, how are donations that exceeded the $2,800 limit being handled?
Electing someone to Congress is a serious matter. NY27’s previous representative is headed for prison. Voters have a right to expect that candidates are following the laws they hope to have a role in approving.