Max’s Progressive Club’s Late Disclosure

Oops! Mistakes were made!

Actually, former Cheektowaga Democratic Committee Chairman Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats group has said absolutely nothing on the issue of its illegally and improperly late campaign finance disclosures. But before we get to that, let’s examine the constituent documents that Max’s companion group – the “Right Democratic Team” filed with the state earlier this year. As you’ll recall, the “Team” is a brand-new construct that held a fundraiser in late July but even at this late September date has yet to disclose anything at all about its activities during the primary campaign season, except a claim that it received $125 from two sources.

Cheektowaga Right Democratic Team by Alan Bedenko

I especially like the stricken “political” as the committee apparently was going to be a PAC before becoming a multi-candidate committee. It’s unclear whether the committee was created on August 7th or 14th, based on the competing “received” stamps, but either way, its filing came one or two weeks after it held its inaugural fundraiser. Who spent money on the fundraiser? How much was raised? To whom were the checks made out? How and when were they deposited? What right did this committee have to raise money for itself if it wasn’t yet legally in existence?

The Right Democratic Team declared the candidates whom it was supporting, also noting that these candidates – Magierski, Specyal, et al. – had authorized it to do so. The filing was executed on July 30th, one day  before its scheduled fundraiser.

As we reported on September 8th –  on the eve of the September 10th primary, which was hotly contested in Cheektowaga, Max’s Progressive Democrats hadn’t filed the requisite disclosures despite the fact that it was quite obviously participating the primary election. We knew that because of a piece of direct mail that it sent out slamming Democratic supervisor candidate Diane Benczkowski. Frank – who has run several times to be the county committee chairman and should know better – seemed to be sort of crossing his fingers and hoping that no one would question why there was no 32 day pre-primary or 11 day pre-primary disclosure filed.

On September 16th, he finally came clean – far too late to matter for the people whom he was working against, and completely against the law. Based on his wide experience engaged in electoral politics, there’s no way this was negligent, accidental, or some mistake. The failure to disclose had to have been intentional.

Now, Max’s group would like to inform you – the electorate – that his personal committee actually DID participate in this primary season, and in its late 32 day disclosure, filed on September 16th, reports having spent $1,600:

In its late 11 day disclosure, also filed September 16th, it reports spending an additional $950:

The 32-day report was due August 10th, and the 11-day was due on August 31st. All of this is 2 weeks to a month too late. All of it was, apparently, specifically designed to keep the electorate and their opponents in the dark about their activities.

The post-primary disclosures were due on September 21st. Neither the Right Democratic Team nor the Progressive Democrats have one on file yet.

Cheektowaga: Wrong Democratic Team

CheekRight

We talked about it during Episode 2 of the Public Record podcast, and I wrote about it here and here.

Sometime during this past summer, a political committee suddenly popped up in Cheektowaga calling itself the “Right Democratic Team.” It filed its first and only financial disclosure on or around September 7th – an 11-day pre-primary report. It appears that the “Right Democratic Team” is a Frank Max-aligned subsidiary of Preetsmas Industries.

Here’s what its reports purport to reveal:

1. The “Right Democratic Team” claims to have been created on August 14, 2015, and Kathleen Hannel is listed as treasurer at a Depew address.

Hannel is a supporter of Supervisor Mary Holtz, has been hired in the past as a seasonal worker in the town clerk’s office, and Holtz co-owns the 16 Brookedge Road property with Hannel, according to the Cheektowaga town assessor:

2. In its September filing, the Right Democratic Team says it took in $50 in unitemized contributions from individuals or partnerships on August 26th. The election law allows contributions of under $100 to be unitemized.

3. The Right Democratic Team says it took in $75 in unitemized corporate contributions on July 30th, two weeks before its creation.

So, according to the “Right Democratic Team”, from a date prior to its creation until the September 7th date of this report, it took in only $125 in unitemized contributions, and spent no money whatsoever.

This, however, is not possible. It is a lie. These people are lying. 

How do we know?

1. Here is a ticket for a picnic fundraiser that the “Right Democratic Team” held at Fontana’s on July 30th.

Unless that event was canceled, this committee (a) made much more than the reported $75 in corporate contributions on July 30th; (b) had expenditures relating to the holding of the picnic event; and (c) it is missing – at the very least – one required financial report, the 32-day pre-primary report.

Although the official address for this shadowy committee is that of Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz, the “remit checks to” address is that of town councilmember Jerry Kaminski. If you go look at Kaminski’s own filings, he reports a $500 contribution to the Right Democratic Team on July 17, 2015. So, why hasn’t the committee that received it reported that? 

Let’s try something different – a search for all contributions to the “Right Democratic Team” that other committees reported. Here’s the result:

So, add to Councilman Kaminski’s $500 an additional $500 from Supervisor candidate Alice Magierski’s committee, Two $500 listings for “literature” to the Right Democratic Team, and a ticket to the July picnic bought by Republican Family Court candidate Brenda Freedman.

That is $2,035 unaccounted-for dollars that the “Right Democratic Team” received starting in mid-July, through September. It had a legal duty to file a 32-day pre-primary report accounting for these payments, but failed and refused to do so. Even if it claimed mistake or ignorance in doing so then, certainly it had a duty to make these disclosures in its 11-day pre-primary report of September 7th. Its failure and refusal to do so is a blatant violation of not only the letter but the spirit of the election law and its flimsy disclosure requirements.

I don’t understand why a group of experienced political operatives feels the need to create a secret, shadowy little political committee to help the Frank Max-backed candidates get elected. Would they be less effective if they obeyed the law? The law requires that they be transparent and up-front about it, yet they refused and failed to do so. Why lie about it? This isn’t an accident – this is deliberate .

Why do people in Cheektowaga tolerate this sort of thing? When will this illegality be prosecuted? Who will prosecute it?

Transparency and Election Law: Cheektowaga

cheek

A couple of years ago, Cheektowaga’s Democratic Committee ousted Frank Max, the head of the Progressive Democrats of WNY committee, as its chairman. Until now, no one thought Max’s group was at all involved in this year’s primary race for town supervisor.

Several Democrats in the town are vying for the supervisor job, including Councilmember Diane Benczkowski and Town Clerk Alice Magierski. The former is aligned with current committee chairman and Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner; the latter is aligned with Max, the town’s former head of sanitation.

On Tuesday, Cheektowaga Democrats found in their mailboxes a mailer slamming Benczkowski and Wegner, and the direct mail piece was marked as paid for by the Progressive Democrats of Western New York—Max’s group.

The problem is that the Progressive Democrats of WNY hasn’t filed the requisite financial disclosures with the Board of Elections.

Max’s political committee would have to declare its support for Magierski or against Benczkowski in order to make independent expenditures on their behalf. Otherwise, a PAC is only allowed to raise and contribute money. Furthermore, a PAC is presumed to be participating in a primary election unless it expressly files a document with the BOE indicating that it is sitting this one out.

By spending money on a mailer involving a primary race, Max’s group has run afoul of the law, and is late in filing its 32-day pre-primary report, and its 11-day pre-primary report. No one knows how much money they’ve spent, how much they’ve raised, or whom they’re supporting. When you slam your opponent for lack of transparency, it would behoove you to be transparent yourself. When you call for “clean” government, do it with clean hands.

Any candidate that will not, in any way, support or oppose a candidate or issue on the ballot for a particular election will not have to file any reports for that election. If you are a registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee, you must, however, inform the Board by filing a Notice of Non-Participation in Election(s) by a Registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee (CF-20 ). Failure to file a CF-20, when applicable, may result in penalties being assessed against the treasurer of a committee.

The committee is no newcomer to this, and has known to make these disclosures in the past.

As a possibly related matter, Ken Kruly’s excellent article dated September 8 reveals the identity of a political committee called the “Right Democratic Team.”  Kruly writes,

On July 21st Magierski’s committee cut a check for $500 to something called the “Right Democratic Team” committee. Such a committee does in fact exist on the State Board of Elections website, with a Cheektowaga address, but it has not filed any disclosure reports. So where did that $500 check go and for what purpose? Perhaps it is nothing much, or perhaps it is the 2015 version of the WNY Progressive Caucus or WNY Freedom, which have had Pigeon-related problems in reporting all their financial activities.

Donations to the Right Democratic Team also came from the Committee to elect Steven Specyal, who is seeking a seat on the Cheektowaga Town Board; Freedman for Families, supporting Barbara Freedman’s bid for Erie County Family Court; and Friends of Jerry Kaminski, who is seeking reelection to the Town Board.

The Right Democratic Team is registered to an address that, according to the Cheektowaga town assessment, belongs to current Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz. (Holtz announced in March that she would not seek re-election.) That address, 18 Brookedge Road in Depew, is listed on the record of Kaminski’s donation to the Right Democratic Team. Curiously, the donations from the other committees to the Right Democratic Team were directed to 1101 Losson Road in Cheektowaga—a property that belongs to Kaminski. Bear that in mind if, in the aftermath of Thursday’s primary, there are allegations of coordination between the Right Democratic Team and the candidates it supports.

In any case, as Kruly points out, if money was exchanged between the Right Democratic Team and any of these committees, then the Right Democratic Team is also dramatically late in filing its 32-day and 11-day pre-primary disclosures.

It’s almost like AwfulPAC became a primer, rather than a cautionary tale.

How to be Creepy

clownshoes

In this article about Cheektowaga politics, I referenced a story that was published on what I called an “irresponsible local website”, which accused Cheektowaga town Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski of working to “suppress” the details of an investigation into allegations of misuse of town resources by politically connected people.

I spoke with Ms. Benczkowski on Friday, and she explained that nothing could be further from the truth. The allegations against Mark Wegner at the highway department were not uncoincidentally raised just three weeks after she publicly accused Frank Max of falsifying overtime documents. An outside investigation was begun, and all of the details that were included in that online piece were improperly leaked from the town board’s executive sessions. Obviously, someone who was privy to that information improperly leaked the contents of what was discussed in executive session to that website. Whoever leaked it breached town policy and his  or her fiduciary duty as a town councilman.

In any event, it could hardly be appropriate to accuse Benczkowski of trying to follow procedures and policy in discussing sensitive investigations, which were ultimately referred in open session to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution of any wrongdoing. As I noted, it seems as if they’re taking complaints seriously and letting the professionals handle it, rather than turning the matter into a circus.

Benczkowski says that the exposure of Frank Max’s apparently improper timekeeping has resulted in a flurry of whistleblowing, and that many town employees are encouraged by the new town board’s willingness to examine and confront past misconduct in order to clear the air and drag good government into Cheektowaga once and for all. There may very well be more to come.

But investigations like this must necessarily be conducted in a professional and appropriate manner, in accordance with existing rules, laws, and procedures.

But to underscore how unabashedly opportunistic this website has become, its putative author sent two emails shortly after the slam against Benczkowski was published. One, amazingly enough, was sent to Benczkowski’s town email address (which is public and subject to FOIL), and contains a blatant solicitation, which would be hilarious if it wasn’t also reminiscent of the dirty business practices of the late Joe Illuzzi.  Note he also misidentifies Benczkowski as “supervisor”.

Not satisfied to let it go at just that, he also sent the following email to a very well-connected local businessman who has ties to Benczkowski:

He wrote an article accusing Benczkowski of “working to suppress Cheektowaga corruption scandal” but never spoke with her – never met her. He goes on to invite them to call him to give their side of the story after the fact. Oh, and by the way, can I have a job or sell an ad?

The danger with all this is that WGRZ actually cited the website as a source for the story it did on this issue. This is the Illuzzi Letter redux. It is not to be taken seriously.

Cheektowaga Politics: Making Other Towns Look Good

Political figure denies padding his pension - wivb.com 2015-02-12 06-21-28

Lest anyone think the City of Buffalo or state government in Albany have some sort of monopoly on dirty politics and bad government, Cheektowaga pops up to periodically remind us that stupidity and dysfunction can be found everywhere.

Let’s take former chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee, and current head of the Cheektowaga “Progressive Democrats” club, Frank Max. Although he’s a bit player in the WNY Progressive Caucus scandal, Max has been at war with whomever has been at the helm of the county Democratic committee for years, and for reasons that no rational person can recall. Max is also the former head of Cheektowaga’s sanitation department, and was unexpectedly ousted as chairman of the Cheektowaga committee this past December.  The newly constituted committee blasted Max’s conduct and handling of committee finances.

In December, Max and his club held a fundraiser. Here’s a somewhat shaky picture of the invitation that was sent out.

I have no idea how the turnout was, or how much money was made.

That’s because Max hasn’t filed any proper disclosure. The “Progressive Democrats” juggernaut boasts a warchest of $2.02, that’s after expenses of $5.00 since the 32 day post-general election disclosure.

Friends of Frank Max” and “Frank Max” both filed statements of no activity.

So, where did the December fundraiser money go?

On another note, at least one irresponsible local website has accused Cheektowaga’s town government of attempting to cover up or silence allegations of monetary irregularities.  On the contrary, town government commissioned a private investigation, and allegedly found that town asphalt millings had allegedly been misappropriated for private use, and that people had improperly been paid for work that wasn’t done. Not uncoincidentally, the highway superintendent is Mark Wegner, who replaced Frank Max as chairman of the town Democratic Committee last year. On Tuesday, the town council voted unanimously to refer the investigation’s findings to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.

It strains credulity to suggest that the town council, Democrats, or Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski are trying to cover up or “suppress” an investigation that the town commissioned and referred to law enforcement. On the contrary, it seems as if they’re taking complaints seriously and letting the professionals handle it, rather than turning the matter into a circus.

If anything is political, it’s Max partisans leaking false information to irresponsible websites. Wegner says it’s a predictable political witch-hunt; Max has it out for Wegner for obvious reasons, but he apparently has beef with Benczkowski because she accused him of falsifying overtime records in an effort to pad his pay and pension.

Racist Assault at a Cheektowaga Dollar General (Update)

Do you know this woman? 

She’s got some interesting views on race. Put another way, this is on the front page of Reddit as of Wednesday morning. 

My favorite part is when she’s on the phone (depicted above) with, ostensibly, her husband and rhetorically asks, (around 2:30) “oh, he knows the cops? How many cops have I stripped for? “

This woman is not only allowed to walk the streets of Cheektowaga, she’s got two kids in front of whom she’s yelling “ni**er” at a Black man whose only offense was to start his car when her boy was nearby, apparently startling him. 

Maybe we can set aside the facile Buffalo exceptionalism for a moment and revisit the idea that our people are no better or worse, necessarily, than those anywhere else in the United States. Perhaps instead of “everything is awesome”, we can use incidents such as these to identify and treat a racist cancer plaguing a place that has acute resentments borne out of ignorance and economic hardship. 

This woman is a symptom of a much larger problem that our #Buffalove tends too often to brush aside. 

UPDATE: She called in to WBLK to defend herself. We learn: 

1. Her name is “Janelle Ambrosia”; 

2. She’s having a very bad day; 

3. The man who took the video “almost hit” her kid with his car, but did not hit anyone with anything; 

4. The man who took the video allegedly called her a “crackhead cracker”; 

5. She thinks that someone shouldn’t be able to post videos – “ex-specially” of her kids – on YouTube; and

6. She is unapologetic – “what am I supposed to do? Apologize?”