Mychajliw’s questionable judgment on campaign finances

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.

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

Well, the primary season is done, except perhaps for Assembly candidate Kevin Stocker, who is suggesting some nefarious error or something else that robbed him of the Democratic nomination in the 140th District. Bill Conrad’s victory margin of more than 1,000 votes was not exactly a nail biter.

Anyway, here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-street items as we wrap up July:
• Chris Jacobs is officially the 27th District of New York’s member of the House of Representative through December 31. There is still an election to be held in November. The relatively close special election demonstrated that “Trump Approved” does not carry the same weight in NY27 that it once did.
• As Congressman, even in the three and a half months leading up to the election, Jacobs is going to actually demonstrate where he stands on the consequential issues of the day. Does he stand with Trump and congressional Republicans in favor of totally eliminating Obamacare, which would take away coverage from more than 20 million people, end protection for those with pre-existing conditions and end coverage under family medical plans for children up to the age of 26?
• Will Jacobs vote for funding at levels necessary to keep unemployed people solvent; financially assist closed businesses; provide aid for schools and colleges to allow for safe re-openings; and assist local and state governments that have been battered by revenue losses?
• Will he stand up to Trump and acknowledge the administration’s failures to manage the pandemic crisis?
• Just over four years ago Donald Trump stood at the podium of the Republican National Convention and proclaimed “I alone can fix it.” Just exactly what has he fixed? How is the country better off than we were four years ago? And by the way, he doesn’t need that podium now.
• The Homeland Security Department’s secret storm trooper brigade is one of the most un-American things that Trump has come up with. Gassing moms in Portland was a shameful and scandalous attack on constitutional rights.
• I don’t get too excited about national presidential polls, even those showing Joe Biden with double digit leads. The battleground state polls, a map that seems to be expanding, are still too early, but nonetheless more relevant.
• NY27 Conservative Party nominee Beth Parlato seems to have disappeared after her less than impressive showing in the Republican Party primary. She originally promised party leaders that she would decline the Conservative line if she lost the Republican primary and allow her name to be placed in nomination for State Supreme Court at an August Judicial Convention, which she could legally do.
• The plan has been that the judicial nomination would be in a state judicial district in New York City, where the Conservative line is basically irrelevant and she would have no chance of winning.
• But could it be that her delay in agreeing to the judicial nomination is because, rather than run in New York City, she would instead want the Republican and Conservative nomination in Western New York’s 8th Judicial District. Holding on to the Conservative congressional nomination could give her some leverage in encouraging those parties to drop Gerald Greenan and run her instead, allowing the Republicans to assist Jacobs in NY27.
• Regardless of what the Republicans and Conservatives do, Democratic City Court Judge Amy Martoche is the odds-on favorite for election to the Supreme Court in the 8th District.
• The other candidate in the Republican primary in NY27, County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, has been busying himself with commentary on the state of finances in Erie County along with various shots at County Executive Mark Poloncarz. His poor third place showing in the primary has reportedly alienated Republican leaders. His term is up next year.
• He will need to rebuild his campaign treasury if he is planning to run again. The latest report filed with the State Board of Elections shows that he has only $10,287 in his account. In July of 2019 he had $68,467. In July of 2018, when Mychajliw was looking to run for county executive, he had $100,736 in his account — $90,449 more than he now has.This blog previously reported that he spent substantial sums from his comptroller campaign account on things that appear related to his congressional campaign, a questionable financial move that presented a distorted picture of both his county and federal campaign activities.
• Mychajliw’s assistant comptroller, Lynne Dixon, who ran for county executive last year, still has $6,902 in her campaign treasury.
• Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard is not expected to run for re-election next year. He has failed as of July 27th to file the required campaign financial disclosure report, which was due on July 15. He reported a balance of $9,927 in January.
• The leadership of the Erie County Legislature seems to take radically different approaches to their campaign finances. Chairwoman April Baskin has $2,566 in her treasury; Majority Leader Tim Meyers has $5,053. Minority Leader Joe Lorigo, on the other hand, has $107,708.
• Ten other legislators, other than Lorigo, have a total of $109,455 in their collective accounts, just $1,747 more than Lorigo has. Legislator Howard Johnson has not filed a July 15th financial report as of July 27. Legislator Jeanne Vinal has strangely filed “No Activity” statements for post-election 2019, January 2020, and July 2020 even though her last report before the November 2019 election showed that she had a balance in her campaign account.
• County Executive Poloncarz reported $80,629. At this time four years ago in the county executive election cycle he had $232,905.
• Mayor Byron Brown reported $115,568 in July. His term is up in December 2021. Four years ago at this time he had $370,827. Eight years ago it was $1,028,577. Has “strive for five [terms]” been shelved?
• Elections for members of the State Assembly and Senate will generally be dull affairs this year. Democratic primaries in two open Assembly seats (the 140th and 149th Districts) basically settled those elections. The 61st Senate District, also an open seat, is Democratic by affiliation but has been held by Republicans in its current or previous drawings for decades. The Democratic candidate, Jackie Berger, just came off a very tight primary race. Republican Ed Rath has more name recognition and cash in his campaign account ($73,516) than Berger ($4,194) but a cash-rich Democratic State Senate Committee could probably dwarf Republican money in the district if they consider the race competitive. Their money, or lack thereof, will tell us what they think of the race’s competitiveness.
• One of the consequences of the lack of action in Washington is that state and local governments, school districts, colleges and non-profit organizations are running dry financially, with no clear picture about what resources they will have available to continue the services they provide. To pinpoint the issue, consider once again the City of Buffalo and its 2020-2021 budget, which among other things depends on the receipt of $65.1 million in federal relief funds. While the picture remains unsettled at this point, the Republican approach to aid for state and local governments might be limited to just adding flexibility to how the state and local governments can spend the $150 billion already approved. That allocation of funds provided no direct funding to the City of Buffalo. Erie County received $160 million and has spent about $24.8 million of that so far.
• Not counting 1983, when the New York Knights played their season at War Memorial Stadium, we have waited 105 years for major league baseball to come to Buffalo. After all the silly dancing around with other cities (what was that about playing in a Double-A stadium in Connecticut?) the Toronto Blue Jays will swallow their collective major league pride and play their 2020 season in Buffalo. With no fans in attendance. This seems to be out of standard Buffalo sports history – wide right, no goal – major league baseball will be in town and we cannot attend. Oh well, go Blue Jays, bring the 2020 World Series championship to Buffalo!

The vice presidential sweepstakes

There are as of this writing just over 100 days left until the 2020 election. It is hardly an exaggeration that this will be the most consequential election in the past 90 years, or maybe forever.

The presidential campaign is going to be a referendum on the administration of Donald J. Trump and the sycophants who have supported and enabled him for the past three and a half years. The judgment of the voters will be of historic proportions.

Future posts will get into issues that will define this referendum but first let’s deal with the task immediately at hand – the selection of vice presidential candidates. Continue reading

Getting schools re-opened — lots of questions, almost no answers

If this were an academic test we were taking we would be on the verge of failing miserably, with the clock on the wall showing we are running out of time.

The hardest dilemma to resolve as we collectively live with and work through the pandemic is the question of how best to get schools reopened for the country’s 56.6 million students. This post offers no magic solutions, just an attempt to focus on what needs to be put together to get the education system up and running again over the next six to twelve months. Continue reading

SUNY Erie’s crisis

Regular readers of this blog are aware that there have been many posts devoted to issues concerning Erie Community College (ECC or SUNY Erie). I have regularly reported on the serious financial problems facing the school. A crisis that has been brewing for many years has arrived as a full blown storm.

The Board of Trustees has submitted a proposed budget to County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the County Legislature that cuts spending for the 2020-2021 year to $83.9 million, a reduction of $22 million compared with the current year. Layoffs are forecast and tuition will rise three percent. State aid will be slashed and the SUNY System has advised schools to use their fund balances before they receive additional funding. Continue reading

We have a plan for that

Welcome to July. The weather finally feels like summer. There is a holiday coming up. They say there will be baseball games on television before the end of the month. The calendar moves on.

June 30 was the last day of the City of Buffalo’s 2019-2020 fiscal year. It was rocky. July 1 is the first day of the City of Buffalo’s new fiscal year. It is going to be rocky.
Mayor Byron Brown on May 1 proposed a budget for the next fiscal year. With some reluctance the Common Council by a six to three vote last month approved the budget. Council members expressed concerns about some of what that document contained. Continue reading