The complaint itself contains a small handful of mysteries as to the identities of people connected with the AwfulPAC allegations; AwfulPAC’s principals are accused of illegally coordinating with the campaigns of three individuals in order to bypass campaign finance restrictions. The 2013 primaries were held on September 9th, and the campaigns of participating candidates had a duty to file financial disclosures with the state on August 8th, August 29th, and September 19th; the 32-day pre-primary, the 11-day pre-primary, and the 10-day post-primary filings, respectively.
“Candidate 1” is alleged to have taken in only $450 in contributions between mid-July and mid-September – the busiest time for a primary campaign. According to filings with the State Board of Elections, candidate for Erie County Legislature Rick Zydel took in exactly that paltry amount during that period.
“Candidate 2” is alleged to have taken in only $700 in contributions between mid-July and mid-September, and apparently spent nothing whatsoever between late August and mid-September. According to the BOE, candidate for Erie County Legislature Wes Moore took in exactly that amount during that period, and spent nothing during the days immediately surrounding primary day.
Now, questions center on the three postal money orders purchased on Aug. 14, 2013 and made payable to the WNY Progressive Caucus, according to the sources.
A name appears on the postal orders as the purchaser. But nobody familiar with the case can say if the person named on the money orders actually purchased them.
Kristy L. Mazurek, treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, endorsed the postal orders and deposited them, the sources said. Yet state Board of Elections campaign finance records indicate no corresponding contribution.
The Postal Service maintains no requirement to show identification when purchasing or sending postal money orders under $3,000, according to spokeswoman Karen L. Mazurkiewicz.
As the Public reported in June 2015, “Person 2”, whose name appears on the money orders, is Matthew Connors, the son of prominent attorney Terry Connors. Connors, however, didn’t buy those money orders and didn’t put his name on them, as he described here to investigators:
So, Pigeon begged Sinatra to contribute to AwfulPAC. Sinatra balked because he didn’t want his name connected to Pigeon or to some shady and nominally Democratic organization. So, instead Sinatra bought some money orders in his employee’s name and gave them to Pigeon, who knew the money’s real source was being disguised, saying it was “fine”.
The limit on campaign contributions for legislative races in 2013 was $1,476.50.
The State’s Complaint alleges that AwfulPAC illegally coordinated with – and made $18,000 in payments on behalf of – the Zydel campaign, exceeding the campaign finance limit by about $16,500. AwfulPAC also allegedly illegally coordinated with – and made $13,000 in payments on behalf of – the Moore campaign, exceeding the limit by about $12,000. Finally, AwfulPAC allegedly illegally coordinated with – and made $4,812 in payments on behalf of – the Manna for Amherst town board campaign, exceeding that race’s applicable limit by about $3,200.
Nothing yet has come about in connection with the Dick Dobson for Sheriff race, which also benefited from AwfulPAC’s aptitude for raising money.
Tuesday morning, the Buffalo News reported that three members of a disgraced faction of nominal Democrats would be facing felony election law charges to be announced in a Buffalo courtroom today.
G. Stephen Pigeon is already facing state charges alleging he bribed a state Supreme Court Justice—the judge pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Kristy Mazurek is a former journalist who hosted WGRZ’s 2Sides program with various Republicans. She has managed or otherwise participated in a string of failed races for elective office, including her brother’s race for Assembly in 2014, and her own Assembly bid last year. David Pfaff has hopped around political jobs, most recently working in the office of former State Senator Marc Panepinto. Pfaff has a reputation for being rather competent when working in government, but his ties to Pigeon have led him to be involved in more than a few controversial races.
When Pigeon and former Supreme Court Justice John Michalek were placed under arrest, I wrote, “There has to be more. I suspect that the Michalek bribery case is just the amuse bouche — the low-hanging, easy to reach fruit that can be pushed through quickly to reassure an impatient public that progress is being made. All the while, law enforcement continues to build its other cases against Pigeon and others. Pass the popcorn, because we’re just watching the trailers.”
Well, take your seats and silence your cell phones, because it looks like the feature’s just starting.
One source familiar with the charges say they will revolve around the County Legislature candidacies of Richard A. Zydel and Wes Moore, as well as the Amherst supervisor candidacy of Council Member Mark A. Manna.
That means the Pigeon troika are being charged with crimes arising out of the 2013 handling of the WNY Progressive Caucus, which I contemporaneously referred to as “AwfulPAC”. I also coined the word “Pigeoning” as shorthand to describe the sorts of shenanigans in which Steve Pigeon and his associates would engage in races that mosty served only to harass and disrupt the electoral efforts of other Democrats.
Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing ˈpi-jən-iŋ: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.
The Pigeon crew would often secure the assistance—tacit and overt—of Republicans, but more frequently the execrable and obsequious fusion parties — “Independence” and “Conservative” alike — to conspire with Pigeon to advance not just candidates, but their committees’ access to patronage jobs.
Blindside the party’s endorsed candidate with a sudden and unexpected influx of expensive mailers, robocalls, and ads that defame them, or worse. Fund it through various and sundry LLCs set up for no other reason than to legally flaunt campaign finance rules. Set up PACs or independent committees whose funding and organization is sketchy, at best, or criminal, at worst. Conspire fusion party bosses, for whom influence over patronage hires regularly trumps any manufactured, elastic ideological tenets.
Nothing that the Pigeon crew ever did brought about real reform or good government. Nothing they touched had anything to do with policy, or helping the community — it was all about enriching Pigeon and the pilot fish who clung to him. Western New Yorkers of every party, of every race, of every nationality, of every class deserve so much better than what Pigeon and his cult offered.
AwfulPAC was only active for a very short period of time—most of what it did took place between July and September of 2013. In May 2015, state and federal agents executed three nearly simultaneous raids on the homes of Pigeon, former Chris Collins chief of staff Chris Grant, and former Buffalo deputy mayor Steve Casey. I dubbed this law enforcement action and investigation “Preetsmas,” after the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Bharara had famously taken over the investigation of political corruption cases abandoned by the Moreland Commission when Governor Cuomo abruptly shut it down.
AwfulPAC wasn’t even properly constituted; it filed its CF-02 in February 2014 to transform it — retroactively — into a multi-candidate committee participating and spending on candidates’ behalf in the 2013 primaries. AwfulPAC declared — nunc pro tunc — that it was an unauthorized committee for Dick Dobson in the primary and general elections, and in the primary for Joyce Wilson Nixon, Barbara Miller-Williams, Rick Zydel, and Wes Moore. They also claimed to be an unauthorized committee for Mark Manna for Amherst Town Board in 2013’s general election. Had AwfulPAC done that at its founding, it could have spent money on behalf of those candidates without coordination; however, as it was originally constituted, it was legally only allowed to raise and donate money to campaigns, and not to promote or oppose specific candidates. We’re meant to believe that it broke the law at the time, but a retroactive “oops” filing of a piece of paper retroactively rendered all its activities legal.
Part of my antipathy for electoral fusion stems from Pigeon’s deft manipulation and marshalling of minor party lines. He has conspired with Ralph Lorigo to steer the Conservative fusion Party line to his various candidates, and enjoys a close relationship with Tom Golisano, the founder of New York’s especially corrupt Independence fusion Party.
One way to think about all of this is political racketeering.
What is often lost in the AwfulPAC narrative is what it actually did. It mostly produced direct mail and other advertisements, some of which were practically defamatory in their rank falsehoods. Here is a sampler of mailers that AwfulPAC sent out to Democrats during the 2013 county legislature primaries.
They attacked other candidates similarly, including Lynn Dearmyer. The language and imagery used and sent to predominately white households is pretty blatantly racist. Betty Jean Grant is “radical” and “extremist.” “They” are “dead set” on “raising our taxes”
Grant and Hogues were understandably outraged. Mazurek was typically flippant. At bare minimum, Mazurek cut and signed the checks that paid for those inflammatory and racist mailers.
Under New York’s weak and hitherto habitually unenforced election law, there is no requirement that the groups sending these sorts of mailers out reveal their identity or funding. “Paid for by” isn’t a requirement, and it protects the racketeers instead of informing the voting public.
Generally, a PAC like the “WNY Progressive Caucus” would need to disclose to the Board of Elections where its money—almost $300,000 came in and went out practically overnight—was coming from. But when these mailers hit in late August 2013, it hadn’t yet filed anything. The reason why anyone found out about it was a FOIL request:
[Betty Jean] Grant on Friday charged that a rival wing of the local Democratic party is behind the anonymous ads. A request made under the Freedom of Information Act to the Postal Service has identified the permit holder on the mailings as the Western New York Progressive Caucus, headquartered on Doris Avenue in Lancaster.
That was Kristy Mazurek’s home, and she was listed as the group’s treasurer. Mazurek, at the time, had been a co-host of WGRZ’s “2Sides”, had helped direct the campaign of failed Comptroller candidate David Shenk, and then turned against Jeremy Zellner’s Democratic Committee and began running Moore’s and Zydel’s campaigns. In August 2013, I called them the “emoDems”,
It should be noted that WGRZ 2Sides co-host Kristy Mazurek is [Wes] Moore’s and [Rick] Zydel’s campaign manager. Query why [her former co-host Stefan] Mychajliw would have felt the need to abandon the show when he ran for public office, yet the Democrat on the show feels no similar ethical obligation to do so, going so far as to attempt to ridicule an opponent on Facebook who wasn’t interested in going on the show.
Mazurek had taken to Facebook to ridicule Moore’s opponent Wynnie Fisher for refusing to appear on 2Sides. Yet why on Earth would a candidate appear on a show to be interrogated by her opponent’s campaign manager? It’s an insane proposition. Mazurek left 2Sides just days later. (There’s David Pfaff again, BTW):
And so, Mazurek Palinistically took to Facebook to issue a non-denial denial about the WNY Progressive Caucus’ literature:
Translation: After Shenk lost, Zellner didn’t hire/get me hired for something-or-other, and so I’m going to align myself with the people who are working to undermine and unseat him. Note that Mazurek doesn’t deny that she or her PAC sent out the anti-Hogues and anti-Grant mailings. She simply says the complaints “don’t have merit”. So, I replied:
Reply, (right under one from Erick Mullen, who did all of Jack Davis’ ads that relentlessly went after endorsed Democrat Jon Powers in ’08):
I have no idea what that means. So,
There was no reply, natch; I don’t think Ms. Mazurek knew what “meritless” means. Ditto her apparently erstwhile ally Pigeon, who said that the charges against him related to Mazurek’s PAC were “frivolous“.
These types of anonymous mailers come out all the time, and when anonymous, you can bet that the people behind it want to keep you in the dark. You should be insulted by them – they figure you’re an idiot; an ignoramus. Yet there’s no law that says they have to disclose who they are. So, if you’re outraged when your candidate gets anonymously and unfairly slammed by anonyms, you’re going to have to lobby Albany to demand that the Election Law be amended to (a) require that all campaign advertisements and literature clearly disclose who paid for them; and (b) institute a hefty penalty for any violations – penalties that are confiscatory deterrents.
Nasty people with unclean hands legally get to make electoral politics dirtier than it has to be. If Mazurek and the people behind the group for which she is treasurer think that Tim Hogues is a closet Clarence Republican and that Barbara Miller-Williams is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then they should disclose who they are.
The disgruntled nominal Democrats in league with Steve Pigeon might consider this, for instance: instead of working with Republicans and the fusion parties actively to undermine endorsed Democrats, why not convince the various and sundry committee members why they should vote for Frank Max or Mark Manna over Jeremy Zellner for party chair next time around? If you’re in league with the Conservative Party, why even pretend to be a Democrat?
But in 2013, the Pigeoning was discovered far earlier than Pigeon and Mazurek had expected, on August 30th. Because they were outed via FOIL request, they were forced to file disclosures just 11 days before the primary, and the disclosure was, at best, packed with fiction. Think about it—they clearly didn’t want to disclose who they were on the reams of literature they produced, and so long as people didn’t know who was behind it, they could defame opponents with impunity. This time, however, they were outed and came under a media microscope. Hogues and Grant filed complaints with the Board of Election, bolstered by former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha, and that complaint was referred to the state, which then referred it to state investigators, and it came before the Moreland Commission and into the hands of Preet Bharara.
AwfulPAC supported a small handful of candidates; Nixon, Zydel and Moore lost their September primaries, but Dick Dobson won his for Sheriff and Barbara Miller-Williams defeated Tim Hogues. Only Miller-Williams won in November. Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night, so Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. AwfulPAC, meanwhile, abandoned Dobson during the general election. Wynnie Fisher had defeated AwfulPAC candidate Wes Moore, so in October, Mazurek evidently used Michael Caputo’s PoliticsWNY.com to smear Fisher. Apparently, Fisher and her neighbors don’t get along, so a story was planted accusing Fisher of being crazy.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
But as Warren sought to pivot from the campaign, a Buffalo activist behind a political action committee under investigation for election law violations claimed last week that her group was “representing” Warren in the election.
Warren will become the city’s first female mayor when she takes office in January. She defeated Mayor Thomas Richards and challenger Alex White last week after a lengthy campaign that saw considerable involvement by individuals and groups outside the candidates’ own campaign committees.
Richards had an unofficial campaign spring up weeks after he ended his own. Warren had close friend and Albany lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy drop more than $40,000 on radio ads in the days before the primary. Then last week, activist Kristy L. Mazurek, the co-founder of the Western New York Progressive Caucus told WBEN930 in Buffalo on Thursday that the caucus was “representing” Warren in her mayoral campaign. No contributions are shown in either the PAC or Warren’s financial disclosure statements, however.
“I don’t even know who that is,” Warren said when first asked about Mazurek.
When later provided a description, she recalled meeting Mazurek at a luncheon days before the election but said they had no contact before or since. The luncheon was a fundraiser hosted, she said, by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown “and his team.” Brown reached out after the primary to offer his support, she said, and he along with Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, (who also assisted Warren in the primary) offered to do the fundraiser.
AwfulPAC: Being awful since August 2013, and now under investigation.
Yesterday afternoon, the PAC’s financial disclosure was revealed on the Board of Elections’ website, and Geoff Kelly wrote up most of the details in Artvoice’s print edition. Big news was a $45,000 influx of cash from Senator Tim Kennedy’s campaign fund, which represents a huge middle finger to, among others, Betty Jean Grant, who not only primaried Kennedy last year, but came within spitting distance of defeating him through a write-in campaign. There was also a $20,000 “loan” from Steve Pigeon.
But what we also noticed last night was the list of 24-hour notices of massive contributions. Here it is:
A local purveyor of fake news has taken to Twitter, Facebook, and probably your email inbox—and the email inboxes of my current and former colleagues—to label me a “serial harasser” and to solicit people’s stories about my supposed penchant for “harassment” for his risible publication.
Obviously, I am not a serial harasser or anything of the sort, and it is heartening the outpouring of support and condolences from people regarding this person. So, I want to talk a little bit here about harassment. Harassment is a crime in the state of New York, with various definitions depending on the severity of the charge. I have not harassed anyone; I do not threaten people with violence or repeatedly communicate with them without any legitimate purpose. I do not harass anyone—sexually or otherwise—and any suggestion to the contrary is a damnable lie. This individual has now had his temper tantrum online, and sent myriad emails to insult me and my reputation. What has transpired over the past several days is this:
1. A few weeks ago, the local publication produced by this individual posted an article that was replete with inaccuracies and typos, attacking me for legal work I had done on behalf of Erie County at my former job, and drawing a conclusion that this “patronage” was the explanation for why I support Mark Poloncarz. I dealt with that in this article, away from The Public, because seriously, how idiotic. He stole the picture of me from my law firm’s website to accompany his piece, without permission, payment, or attribution.
2. Last week, I was informed that he had published actual paper copies of his rag, and that the article about me—typos and inaccuracies still present—was included therein. He used this time a different picture—a selfie I took several years ago in the rain in Cooperstown, which doubles as my YouTube profile image—to accompany his article, again violating my copyright without payment, attribution, or permission.
3. Coincidentally, on Monday the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) posted a story about fake news sites proliferating throughout Canada, and their stories being shared widely through social media. The CBC singled out that local Buffalo publication as the source of a lot of fake news, and frankly wasn’t the first to do so. I drew attention to this article on Twitter, and received some I guess not at all harassing replies.
I will admit that is some funny shit. This broad drove down from Toronto unannounced, two weeks after I told her that @BnChronicle doesn’t talk to government-funded journalists. @JustinTrudeau has these hacks working for @liberal_party on the public dime. Smh.
The interesting part to me has to do with the “contract” that this person attempted to get the CBC to execute as a prerequisite to him appearing on what amounts to Canada’s 60 Minutes. If I ran a website that was continually and chronically accused of spreading false and malicious lies about Buffalo and Canadian politics, you’d be damn sure I’d want to defend myself and clear the air about that. Because ultimately what do you have if not your honesty or integrity? For instance, when we published Paladino’s emails, we at WNYMedia made ourselves available to anyone who wanted to interview us. No strings attached. When I did my Preetsmas series, only once was there someone who challenged something, and it was a detail about how—i.e., the route—through which money got siphoned from Nick Sinatra to the AwfulPAC.
So, you’d expect that if this local publication were on the level, its author would be willing to go anywhere at any time, if for no other reason than to defend his honesty, accuracy, and integrity. But that’s not what happened. Snippets from that contract were aired, and it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Firstly, he demands that this interview, to take place in Toronto, be subject to New York State venue and choice of law.
Then, he demands that the interview be broadcast “live and unedited.”
Here, the Buffalo-based publisher demands a makeup artist, supplies, and that lighting be set 20% softer to suit him. The CBC can only use his name for “seven days” because that’s a thing that news organizations agree to.
But this is the best part. He tried to impose a ban on words and topics like whoa. He demands that he be identified as a “political consultant and publisher” but not as a “journalist, writer, blogger, or content producer.” I’m bummed because I want to learn more about his putative relationship to the Maggadinos and Todaros and “Butchie Bifocals”.
The moral of the story is that if you want to be a political commentator of sorts, or to run a publishing concern, it helps to proofread, it helps to not make things up, it helps to be thorough, and it helps to do some basic research. Furthermore, when accused of malfeasance, and you’re innocent, then proudly declare it with no preconditions or lighting and make-up requirements. It is only through tactics like phony addresses, make-believe “contributors”, theft of copyrighted material, and convoluted avoidance of accountability for your alleged malfeasance that it becomes evident that every charge and every accusation is true and unable to be defended.
Here are some of the perfectly reasonably responses I received from this person:
You are such an attention whore, injecting yourself in shit that is none of your business, you repulsive, disgusting, miscreant.
Why don’t you mind your own fucking business instead of harassing me with nonsense that doesn’t pertain to you. You’re not Canadian. By law, you are not to interfere with Canadian politics, you attention whore.
Nothing says “serious journalist” like fat jokes. (After this person claimed he was employed, I looked into that. He lists “Enkindle Strategies, LLC” out of San Francisco on LinkedIn as his employer. There is no such entity—nothing online for that company in the US, and no LLC registered under that name in California, Nevada, New York, or Delaware. Make of that what you will.)
UPDATE: He appears to have deleted several of his Tweets. Here is a screencap. Click it to enlarge.
All of this resulted in him posting to Twitter and Facebook that I am a “serial harasser” and soliciting stories about my harassment from anonyms.
I’m not harassing you. I didn’t tag you or your piece of shit paper, and I have no opinion whatsoever on Canadian politics. Just on fake news sites. You should go back to blocking me, because this manic episode of yours is a bad look. https://t.co/sQH6EpceTE
He posted it numerous times to Twitter. To Facebook. To his email list. To the lawyers in my office. I received dozens of email forwards from concerned and amused friends in town. I mean, this isn’t at all a creepy escalation, right?
If the author of this website tells you it’s sunny, be sure to look out the window first. He whines about harassment while harassing me. I didn’t email his putative colleagues. I didn’t blast an email about him to all and sundry. I didn’t spam Twitter and Facebook with an image of me from my personal account. I didn’t even use his name in this post (except in embeds, where it is unavoidable).
This is all ominous lunacy, and everyone in Buffalo, Canada, and beyond, should be forewarned about him, his publication, and his practices.
Thank you for your transmittal of April 8th. Evidently you were responding to a tweet from County Executive Mark Poloncarz that you failed or neglected to reprint in its entirety:
Hi everyone! Please watch this important message from me about an unexpected primary I am facing and how a donation in any amount you can make to me at the link below will send a message to those who oppose us that we will not go back to the old ways. https://t.co/rmgJNAWnNdpic.twitter.com/PSE273vIQf
As a preliminary matter, I do not know how my personal email address came to be added to your list. Secondly, reading and listening are both useful skills.
You ask, “How would you define the “Bad Old Days”?
As a matter of fact, Mr. Poloncarz both wrote and said “bad old ways”.
Not days. Ways.
Were the “Bad Old Days” the days when the Party Chairman appointed himself to one of the highest paying jobs in county government? Were the “Bad Old Days” the days when there wasn’t one person of color employed at party headquarters? Were the “Bad Old Days” the days where in the first 7 years of your administration you didn’t have one African American in a leadership role? Were the “Bad Old Days” the days where you ordered the re-appointment of a disgraced Water Authority Chairman, whose removal was recommended by a state oversight authority? No Mr. Poloncarz, these were not the “Bad Old Days”, this is your County Democratic Party of today!!
I’m sure it will come to a surprise to everyone – especially party headquarters – that there is “not one person of color employed at party headquarters.” Call and ask for the Executive Director. Ask her about it.
In any event, I would like to address the “concerns” contained within your intemperate rant.
The “bad old ways” were the times when a former Democratic chairman – deposed for being a divisive failure – undertook a well-funded, two-decades-long political jihad to systemically weaken the party committee he hoped again to run, and scorched Democrats who were trying to better their communities. The “bad old ways” saw a former Democratic chairman open a business with notorious right-wing propagandist Roger Stone in order to destroy local Democrats.
Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing ˈpi-jən-iŋ: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.
Now, we have some people trying to Pigeon sine Pigeon, trying so desperately to cling to the bad old ways.
According to admissions made by the defendants at the time of the plea, from August 2013 through September 2013, Mazurek and Pfaff knowingly and willfully attempted to engage in illegal campaign coordination while acting on behalf of the Western New York Progressive Caucus, an unauthorized political committee, in regard to the nomination for election of an Erie County Legislature candidate in the September 10, 2013 primary. Campaign coordination is a crime under the Election Law. The crime is committed when a person knowingly and willfully, solicits, organizes, or coordinates the activities of an unauthorized committee with the activities of a candidate or the candidate’s agents and where the expenditures made by the unauthorized committee on behalf of the candidate exceed the contribution limit for the candidate’s race.
On behalf of the Western New York Progressive Caucus, Mazurek and Pfaff sought input from an Erie County legislative candidate with respect to campaign literature and a photo shoot. Western New York Progressive Caucus paid expenses on behalf of the candidate that exceeded the $1,476.50 contribution limit of that race by over $16,500.
Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing ˈpi-jən-iŋ: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.
Mazurek entered a guilty plea to an attempted violation of Election Law section 14-126(5), a class A misdemeanor; Pfaff entered a guilty plea to attempted violation of Election Law section 14-126(3), a class B misdemeanor, today before Hon. Donald F. Cerio, Jr., in Erie County Supreme Court.
The Western New York Progressive Caucus was created by G. Steven Pigeon and Kristy Mazurek in August 2013 as an independent expenditure committee designed to support Democratic candidates in the 2013 Democratic Primary.
In 2013, Pigeon, Pfaff, and Mazurek created the AwfulPAC in order to raise money and operate campaigns on behalf of several candidates, including Dick Dobson for Sheriff, and Erie County Legislature candidates Rick Zydel and Wes Moore. Pfaff and Mazurek admitted through their plea that they illegally and improperly coordinated PAC and campaign activities and fundraising. Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood said that the AwfulPAC was created to “skirt the law”.
I am having a hard time reconciling the clear illegality with the extremely light sentences here. I don’t know how these people can do what they did and get away with it. Small consolation we can call Mazurek and Pfaff convicts. New York voters deserve better.
But memories are short and convenient, and the villains of January 2010 have largely not been drummed out of local politics. This is a testament, I supposed, to that whole “city of good neighbors” thing. You can back your enemy for short-term tactical political gain, and you will still be tolerated within Democratic ranks later on.
Steve Pigeon’s rogue political machine was a cancer on the Erie County Democratic Committee. Like any cancer, people tried valiantly to halt its spread, to attack and counter-attack, to do as little damage to healthy tissue as possible while killing the cancer. Getting rid of Pigeon as chair was just excising the tumor—the margins weren’t clear, and the battles continued. Unlike most cancers, however, we know exactly what fed and enabled Pigeonism: electoral fusion. Without the ability routinely to screw over Democratic HQ through malignant wheeling and dealing with the execrable “Independence Party” (which is neither independent nor, really, a party) or the so-called “Conservative” Party, Pigeonism couldn’t have existed.
As with most cancers, Pigeonism brought good days and bad days; but the prosecutions over 2013’s WNY Progressive Caucus seemed a miracle cure. The cancer got sloppy and an exciting trial of a new drug called “Enforce Existing Rules and Laws” showed promise. The cancer is now in remission, but there is no known cure. Steve Pigeon may be a convicted felon, and he may be disbarred for it, but there is nothing stopping him from re-infecting our political organism. Even this primary cycle, aberrant cells of breakaway Dems mounted failed attempts to play the same old game, but it doesn’t work anymore; not like it used to. Not remotely.
Pigeon’s co-conspirator from 2010, Christopher Collins, also finds himself facing criminal charges. He stands accused of various types of fraud and is out and campaigning on $500,000 bail; evidently, he’s a moderate flight risk. After suspending his campaign and pledging to step aside, Collins—ever looking out for himself over the good of his constituents—flip-flopped and decided to stay in the race. So far, “campaigning” means throwing up racist, lying TV ads and showing up to events where he is guaranteed a friendly, placid audience. Christopher Collins can’t really debate anyone in any meaningful way. After all, he is under arrest and subject to a Miranda warning—everything he says can be used against him in a court of law.
But there is one constant that has helped to accelerate the growth of the cancer on our body politic represented by Pigeon and Collins, and it is beautifully embodied by this Buffalo News article. Written by dutiful longtime Pigeon stenographer Bob McCarthy, it seems simply to regurgitate a Collins campaign press release announcing a new television ad that will attack Democratic, un-arrested challenger Nate McMurray for supporting Medicare for all.
“Nate’s push for European-style health care shows how radically out of touch he is with the 27th District,” said campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre. “His plan raises spending by $32.6 trillion, doubles taxes for every American, and jeopardizes care for our seniors while severely raising their taxes. Voters should take Nate McMurray at his word – at least until he deletes this video.”
Let’s operate under a few assumptions, all of which give accused criminal Christopher Collins the undeserved benefit of the doubt. We start with the premise that the status quo, as it relates to American healthcare and insurance, is inadequate or unacceptable. Collins has spent years deriding Obamacare as a “socialist” failure, so he bears a substantial burden of proof to offer up an alternative. Not just any alternative—but specifically an improvement upon not just Obamacare’s status quo, but the pre-Obamacare years, as well. The goal is ostensibly to maximize how many are covered, the type of coverage, protection for pre-existing condition coverage, and lower cost. The pre-Obamacare system left too many people uninsured. President Obama cobbled together a Frankenstein compromise to maximize coverage within the context of the American private health insurance system, and expansion of Medicaid.
Although Obamacare was by no means a perfect solution, it has succeeded in expanding coverage, increasing the number of people insured, and guaranteeing a minimum standard of what “health insurance” should include. Despite all of this—despite it being a national roll-out of Romneycare, a single-payer alternative thought up by the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute think-tank—Republicans accused Obama of being a Kenyan socialist and Obamacare was an un-American socialist government takeover of healthcare.
So, let us assume for a moment that Republican attacks on President Obama and his signature health insurance scheme were somehow grounded in reality or even remotely sincere. Obamacare was passed into law in 2010. The Republicans had eight years to devise some sort of cheaper, better alternative. When they gained control of both houses of Congress and the White House, however, they couldn’t do it. All of their anti-Obamacare “repeal and replace” bluster was revealed to be little more than lies when they failed to actually do what they said they would do. For his part, Christopher Collins proudly went on TV and told his constituents that he hadn’t even bothered to read the bill for which he voted.
That video is, itself, disqualifying for re-election. Collins doesn’t care about you or your mommy or your daddy or your grandma or your farm or your business. He serves masters higher than his constituency—his political party and his relentless greed and ambition.
In recent years, the idea of expanding Medicare—the hugely popular single-payer health insurance plan for senior citizens—to all Americans has grown in popularity. It has become a viable and politically tenable alternative concept. As it stands now, Americans’ loudest and most sincere criticisms of private health insurance in the era of Obamacare is that it is too expensive, and deductibles are untenable and unaffordable. Medicare for all alleviates both concerns. So, Christopher Collins and his shills—experts at using ruthlessness as a cut-rate replacement for talent—deride Medicare as “radically out of touch” with people in the district. Go tell it to seniors. Go tell it to common ratepayers who devote thousands every year to cover healthcare costs and get little out of it. Tell it to people who can’t afford their medication. Tell it to people who fundraise for chemotherapy treatment through coin jars at convenience store check-outs. For the best and richest country in the world, we operate our healthcare like a tropical kleptocracy. Christopher Collins has no work ethic—he’s not trying to devise a reasonable alternative health insurance scheme. Christopher Collins has no ideas—he’s just a coward too afraid to even show up to debate his opponent on this or any other issue. Christopher Collins talks a big game when his high-priced DC swamp media gurus get a hold of him, but he trembles at the idea of a debate or being challenged.
Who cares what Christopher Collins says? I don’t get life tips from guys at Rikers, either.
Collins has no ideas, can’t be bothered to defend the few he purports to have in a public forum, and is just an empty vessel—an abject failure as a “representative” whose political survival is wholly dependent only on his party affiliation. When Bob McCarthy regurgitates a Collins press release, and then calls the McMurray campaign for comment, that is the laziest form of “journalism” available. Like Collins’s excuse for representation, it is a poor excuse for fact-finding. When Collins and his shills attack Nate McMurray for wanting to expand Medicare, why isn’t McCarthy asking them simple questions: What system do you prefer? What system do you propose? What changes would you make to McMurray’s plan? What changes would you make to ensure that health insurance and healthcare are comprehensive and affordable?
Sure, McMurray supports the expansion of Medicare to all Americans. No American should be faced with an illness and not have the means or opportunity to seek and obtain necessary medical treatment. McMurrayCare might indeed be a reduction in health insurance bureaucracy into one simple plan. (Ask doctors what they would prefer.) So, what is CollinsCare, except free access to a mason jar to use at cash registers to pay for your kid’s leukemia treatment?
From its corporate communications page, “Amaya owns gaming and related consumer businesses and brands including PokerStars, Full Tilt, BetStars, StarsDraft, the European Poker Tour, PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Latin American Poker Tour and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.
Amaya has since retained the services of Bolton-St. John’s to undertake its Albany lobbying. (Jan – June 2014, Jul – Dec 2014), and in that latter half of 2014 also retained “Niagara Frontier Business Solutions, Inc.” located in a home in Buffalo and using the phone number of Bolton-St. John’s partner, Jack O’Donnell. Amaya paid O’Donnell $55,000 for the latter half of 2014 and $120,000 in 2015. Amaya, whose lobbying affairs after 2015 were being handled by executives located on the British tax haven the Isle of Man, paid O’Donnell another $20,000 in the first half of 2016, but in the latter half of last year reported only using Cozen O’Connor from New York City.
The federal complaint, based on emails seized from Pigeon’s waterfront condo during a 2015 raid, alleges he conspired to hide the true source of the foreign contribution while arranging it for a Manhattan event featuring the governor. He could face five years in jail if convicted.
“Pigeon sought and successfully helped … a $388,000 client,” acting U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy said during an afternoon press conference, “allowing them to interfere in a U.S. election by making a significant contribution.
Pigeon spoke with the News’ Bob McCarthy after the arraignment, and attacked – oddly – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has no federal power or jurisdiction.
These latest ridiculous charges – three in a row now – show what a political witch hunt this is…I was simply a co-host of a Cuomo party and invited a Canadian citizen to an event like what he attends all over the United States. I simply invited a person and I’m the only one charged…This is all the result of a politically motivated prosecutor and an obsessed federal agent on this case,” he said, calling the attorney general “the most political prosecutor in the history of this state….I have no idea why these people are piling on,” he said, adding that millions of dollars have been spent to put him under a “microscope.”
A lot of political actors in western New York have a word for that – karma.
Schneiderman didn’t file this complaint. He doesn’t prosecute in federal court. The acting US Attorney’s office brought this prosecution under federal law. It has evidence that Pigeon knowingly conspired to mask an illegal foreign donation to Governor Cuomo through a U.S. person. The News details that the emails reveal a deliberate scheme to evade restrictions on foreign contributions. Pigeon’s attorney, Paul Cambria, took an opportunity to throw the Governor under the nearest bus,
The Cuomo people were aware of it,” he said, adding that his client is convinced of the political motivations, “at least from the state standpoint.”
One question: all of this money flowing through Pigeon’s bank accounts from other sources to be used for political purposes – that’s income. Was it declared as such?
It seems as if the sunlight on Pigeon’s emails and bank transactions is revealing a lot of ugly stuff, and prosecutors are only just beginning to unravel it all, apparently evealing a broad criminal enterprise designed improperly to influence elections by funneling massive sums of money to committees and campaigns.