Chasing Pigeon: The GOP Joins the Chase
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:58 am, October 24, 2008
Today Buffalo News politics reporter Bob McCarthy writes that GOP county election commissioner Ralph Mohr is asking DAs an three counties—Erie, Genesee, and Niagara—to investigate Steve Pigeon’s squirrelly campaign finance maneuvers. In doing so, he joins Sam Hoyt operative Jeremy Toth, who has asked the DAs in Erie, Monroe, and Albany counties to investigate Responsible New York, the $5 million committee funded by Tom Golisano and directed by Pigeon. Toth alleges that Responsible New York illegally coordinated its activities with the Barbra Kavanaugh campaign. Rivals of Joe Mesi, whom Responsible New York supports for the 61st District State Senate seat, have made the same accusation of coordination, which is a felony.
According to McCarthy’s piece, Mohr has latched onto Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, which was started in 2005 and spent a great deal of money on Erie County Legislature races that year; among its donors were the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which gave an eye-popping $20,000, and then County Executive Joel Giambra, who gave $11,000.
Here’s the registration form for CFI. A curious fact: Angela Irvin, designated as CFI’s treasurer, was just 18 when this form was filed in 2005, and registered to vote at 119 Treehaven Road, which is Steve Pigeon’s mother’s house. The other authorized check signer for CFI, Alexandra Lawkowski, is also known as Alexandra Schmid, who also worked for Change WNY Now, a Pigeon-controlled PAC, and for People for Accountable Government, another Pigeon-controlled PAC run by Pigeon’s ally David Pfaff.
Earlier this year Schmid received $1,000 in consulting fees from CFI, which itself received $4,000 from Responsible New York. CFI also gave $1,000 to Mesi, $500 to Kavanaugh, and $500 to Frank Sedita—the front-runner for Erie County DA, who, if elected, will decide whether to investigate Pigeon’s money-handling. CFI made these donations even as it was, according to its campaign finance disclosure forms, in the hole more than $7,000. So CFI, with no money of its own to give, must have acted as a pass-through—laundering Responsible New York money, essentially, as Mohr alleges in his complaint.
This presumes, of course, a faith in the accuracy of CFI’s campaign finance filings. That faith is difficult to sustain: The committee quit reporting after a flurry of initial activity in 2005, then suddenly began filing again this year, when election officials began to scrutinize the committee’s finances. One curiosity that scrutiny uncovered, according to a source at the Erie County Board of Elections, is a habit of skipped checks in the committee’s checkbook. For example, there might be accounts of check numbers 1001-1005…and then the next check accounted for is number 1014. What happened to all the checks in between?
Unfortunately for Pigeon, it seems Tom Golisano is not so careless with his checks. According to Mohr’s complaint, Golisano signed a Responsible New York check and noted on the memo line that it paid for consulting fees in the 61st District. An unauthorized committee such as Responsible New York may purchase advertising for a candidate it supports, but it may not directly purchase services for that candidate. It may not pay a consultant to the candidate. That would constitute coordination.
Last month, Golisano told Artvoice that what Responsible New York’s discosure filings called “consulting” fees—specifically, consulting fees paid to Pigeon’s firm, Landen LLC—were in fact used to purchase radio and TV advertising. He said the disclosure forms were “wrong.” Perhaps that’s the case, too, with the check Mohr is waving around now.