It seems that when Erie County Democrats aren’t battling local Republicans, they’re busy ripping each other to shreds. In its biennial outbreak of trench warfare between various Democratic factions, the party is too distracted by insider nonsense to remember how to win key elections.
In 2013, the Democratic headquarters/Jeremy Zellner faction endorsed several candidates for the county legislature, as well as Bert Dunn for county sheriff. The Steve Pigeon faction backed different candidates for all of those races, including Dick Dobson for sheriff. On its face, that’s no big deal – primary races during primary season.
But what may have started out as a typical Pigeonesque trolling of county HQ has developed some serious legs.
The suspected Pigeon modus operandi is to use go-betweens and shell corporations or LLCs to funnel money to, from, and between his candidates and certain campaign consultants and companies to do lit, polling, signs, and media buys. They use rhetorical sledgehammers to demolish their opponents with whatever smear they can muster – ask Sam Hoyt. It’s all a well-oiled machine that has few accomplishments, other than spending other people’s money and occasionally harming Democratic candidates in general elections.
The problem is that apparent campaign finance and disclosure violations are seldom investigated and almost never prosecuted. At least, not in Erie County.
In 2013, Pigeon and erstwhile political commentator Kristy Mazurek set up the “WNY Progressive Caucus”. It was set up as a PAC – the election law doesn’t use that term, but as an unauthorized committee, the WNYPC could raise and spend money to donate to specific campaigns, but was not allowed to coordinate with them, or spend money on their behalf. I called it “AwfulPAC”.
In early September 2013, just weeks before primary day, the WNYPC paid for thousands of pieces of literature to be mailed to voters, slamming legislative candidates backed by party headquarters; most notably, Tim Hogues, Betty Jean Grant, Wynnie Fisher, and Lynn Dearmyer. By way of example, one piece of WNYPC lit slammed Hogues for being a “Republican”, and promoted the candidacy of his challenger, Barbara Miller-Williams – a woman who quite literally conspired with Republicans to mount a legislative coup in 2010.
WNYPC’s disclosures were not complete. For a time, it showed the PAC to be in the red – a big no-no. Disclosures came in late. Disclosures were inaccurate or misleading, in one instance showing a donation from a different, long-dormant Pigeon-associated PAC, “Democratic Action”. What was odd about that purported $9,000 donation from Democratic Action was that it did not disclose any outflow of money during the same 2013 cycle, and had most recently showed a fund balance of $2,400 and a concomitant “no activity” report with the Board of Elections.
Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night. Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. WNYPC abandoned Dobson, however, during the general election. None of Mazurek’s legislative candidates won, so she used Michael Caputo’s PoliticsWNY.com to smear Wynnie Fisher, who had defeated Mazurek’s candidate, Wes Moore. Apparently, Fisher and her neighbors don’t get along, so a story was planted accusing Fisher of being crazy.
The problem was that the letter was sent to Wes Moore at an address in Lancaster. But Moore’s campaign committee was based in the Nanulas’ offices in Clarence. The Lancaster address was a house on Doris Avenue where Mazurek was living, and which also served as the mailing address for WNYPC. There was, on its face, a smoking gun of coordination. How and why would Wynnie Fisher’s neighbors decide to send a letter to an address for Wes Moore that didn’t exist in nature?
In late September 2013, Tim Hogues and Betty Jean Grant, with an assist from anti-Pigeon transparency advocate Mark Sacha, filed a formal complaint with the New York State Board of Elections, accusing Pigeon, Mazurek, and WNYPC of various illegalities and violations of campaign finance law.
After the County Board of Elections resolved to investigate the complaint, it was turned over to the state BOE, which in turn appears to have turned it over to the Attorney General’s office and State Police. Once an investigation such as this is put into the hands of people outside of Buffalo, you know that the threat of shenanigans is decreased exponentially.
Kelly reports that police interviewed several people at the county legislature. I have confirmed that at least one of the legislative candidates from 2013 was also interviewed. Subpoenas have been issued and action taken to enforce them. Don’t be surprised if forensic accountants are trying to account for all the money – where it came from, and how it was spent.
Kelly also reports that real estate deals and former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey are under investigation. This likely has something to do with the Seneca Mall project, where Casey is now employed.
For once, at long last, it seems that campaign finance and election laws are being enforced in a serious way. Will there be a prosecution? Time will tell, but something big is going on behind the scenes, and it’s being directed by very serious people from outside the area.