Where campaigns stand financially and strategically heading to November

The most eventful campaigns in recent local political history hit a milestone on July 15th.  All political committees, whether they are engaged in an election in 2021 or not, were required to file financial disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections on that date.

For those looking to see where the various candidates stand three and a half months out from the November 2nd election, the reports help size up the field.  For active 2021 campaigns the new information will follow on three previous reports since January.

When New York State switched from September to a June primary system a couple years ago several problems were created.  The advanced calendar requires parties and candidates to get lined up early to start a new year’s election cycle almost immediately after the previous election was completed.  The petitioning process to qualify for the ballot begins in February, which is usually not the best month for door-to-door activity.

The state Election Law sets the schedule for when committees must file their reports.  All committees must file on January 15 and July 15.  For committees involved in a current year election reports are due twice before a primary, if there is one, and then twice before and once after the general election in November.

The process created by the June primary schedule is that after the July 15th report there will in effect be an information desert that lasts two and a half months until 32 days before the general election, October 1.  The Election Law should be changed to include at least one additional financial report prior to that date, perhaps around Labor Day.

Here are highlights concerning three major campaigns that will occur in Erie County in 2021 for information up to July 11th, the reporting cutoff date.

Mayor of Buffalo

  • Mayor Byron Brown opened up the money spigots since the last financial report on June 11. He raised $201,339 and spent $294,131. Fifty-one contributions were for $1,000 or more and many came from the usual names – developers and big money people. Among the donors were members of the Jacobs family ($30,000); Robert Rich ($10,000); the Committee for Economic Growth ($10,600); Paul Lamparelli ($5,000); and Norstar Property Management ($5,000). Nearly all of those contributions were received prior to the primary election. Brown has $208,600 remaining in his account.
  • Brown begins his write-in campaign effort with substantial financial resources already in hand and the ability to raise a whole lot more. Technically a write-in effort is fairly simple. The big question is whether his rusty and lazy campaign crew can become re-invigorated to give him a shot at winning.
  • The winner of the Democratic primary, India Walton, raised $198,740 since the June 15th filing, slightly less than Brown’s haul. A significant stream of donors and money continues to flow into Buffalo from out-of-towners. She has $147,149 cash on hand.
  • Once again Walton’s total dollars collected includes an extraordinary amount of undocumented contributions, $74,630. For the four reports filed thus far her campaign reported a total of $110,638 in unitemized contributions, which more than one-third of all her money. The Brown total of unitemized contributions: $0.
  • A Channel 4 News report on July 9th paralleled my reporting three days previous. There were some errors in the reporting. In that story Brown discussed Walton’s undocumented fundraising but fumbled his reply when asked if there was “evidence” to back up his claim. The correct answer would have been that there is no “evidence” because there is no documentation of the unitemized cash. The latest Walton report more than doubled the previously undocumented money.
  • The large dollar contributions received by Brown are certainly fair game for Walton to make her point about Brown’s connection with developers. The argument loses punch, however, when Walton is receiving tens of thousands of dollars from out-of-town contributors and has in addition failed to disclose the sources of more than $110,000 in unitemized contributions.
  • A previous post concerning Walton’s fundraising included the fact that the campaign had received a $150 contribution from an address in Japan. I went on to say that it is illegal for a campaign to receive a donation from a foreign country. The correct comment should have been that it is illegal to accept a contribution from a foreign national. The donor of the $150 contribution from the Japan address has informed me that he is an American citizen. Such contributions are legal. My analysis of campaign contributions comes directly from the BOE website where campaigns file their reports. The citizenship of donors is not included in the data.

Erie County Sheriff

  • The winner of the Republican primary, John Garcia, reports that he raised $42,169 in the most recent reporting period.  He spent $106,304 and has a campaign balance of just $3,982.
  • The loser of the Republican primary, Karen Healy-Case, remains on the November ballot as the candidate of the Conservative Party.  Her July 15th report indicates that she collected $23,978 in the past month.  She spent $115,553, including $91,475 to Chris Grant’s Big Dog Strategies and has $3,725 remaining.
  • The Erie County Conservative Party has in recent years spent $20,000 or more for radio commercials promoting candidates on their line.  So how do they handle that this year?  Vote line C except for sheriff? 
  • The winner of the Democratic primary, Kimberly Beaty, raised $30,018 and spent $57,996.  Her campaign account has $4,843 remaining as of mid-July.
  • The fourth candidate for sheriff is Ted Dinoto, who is running on an independent ballot line that he created.  The July 15th financial report, which is the first that he was required to file, shows that he raised $44,965 and loaned his campaign $50,000.  He has expenditures of $20,705 thus far and $74,260 is still available at the moment.

The primaries for sheriff, particularly on the Republican side where a total of more than $450,000 was spent, were very expensive and now Garcia and Beaty need to go back to original donors plus find new ones to raise money – a great deal of money. 

Stories persist about the continuing bitterness among Republicans over the primary for sheriff which may complicate the fundraising for Garcia.

Dinoto stands in a much better financial position at the moment.  The stakes, however, are going to be a lot higher.  Figure a minimum of $250,000 in spending, each, before Election Day.  Dinoto has a head start on that but he will need to overcome the lack of a party line.  Or maybe that will be an advantage in this crazy year.

Beaty and Democratic Comptroller candidate Kevin Hardwick have an advantage that has not been available to Democrats in recent races for those offices.  Instead of Buffalo Democrats going into hibernation after a primary election, the highly competitive race for mayor should bring out thousands of additional Democrats in November.

Erie County Comptroller

  • There were no primaries in either the Republican or Democratic Parties for Comptroller so the July 15th reports for Republican Lynne Dixon and Democrat Kevin Hardwick are the first look we have had at their campaign finances since January 15th.
  • Hardwick received contributions totaling $44,667 in the past six months and contributed $2,100 of his own money.  He spent $10,845 and had $51,282 in his treasury as of July 15th.  Among his receipts were six donations of $1,000 or more, which included $8,500 in union money.
  • Dixon added $53,055 in donations, had expenditures of $4,416 and has $55,041 in the campaign bank account at this time.  She received 10 donations of $1,000 or more, including $10,000 from Patrick Hotung, $5,000 from James Eagan, and $4,500 from Accadia Contracting.  She had one donation from a union ($500).

Financially, therefore, Dixon and Hardwick are on pretty even footing at the moment.  As noted previously, however, Hardwick should benefit from increased Democratic turnout in Buffalo, forcing Dixon to find more suburban and rural votes for comptroller than might have been needed in previous elections for the office.

I might say state tuned at this point of this post but that will leave you waiting for a long time.  The campaigns will go on but their money will be a secret until October 1.

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