Wealthy last-minute donors to Brown campaign

Billionaires and companies doing business with the city are among the contributors who have flooded the mayor's campaign committee with nearly $120,000 the past week
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

Updated: 1:42 p.m.

Maybe the race for mayor of Buffalo is tighter than most believed it would be. 

Or perhaps the last-minute flurry of campaign activity by Mayor Byron Brown — who has been running a stealth campaign for the past five months — was forthcoming regardless of whatever internal polls told the four-term incumbent.

Whichever the case, the Brown campaign has come alive in the last week. And big donors have poured money into the re-election effort, helping to underwrite a blitz of TV advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts as the countdown to election day approaches zero.

Tuesday’s Democratic primary for mayor pits the four-term incumbent Brown against India Walton, a former nurse and community organizer, and Le’Candice Durham, a city 311 help line employee.

Brown’s fundraising has been lackadaisical compared to previous re-election campaigns, but the taps opened up last week. Between Monday morning and the close of business on Friday, 41 donors gave Brown’s campaign a combined $119,199, for an average donation of $2,907. 

The donor list is dominated by powerful business interests and wealthy families. 

The Committee for Economic Growth — a political action committee run by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce — kicked in $10,600.

Billionaire businessman Robert Rich Jr. gave Brown $10,000.

Those donations appear to be violations of state limits on campaign donations. Individual donations to a citywide primary campaign in Buffalo are capped at $5,320.85, according to the Erie County Board of Elections. When a candidate participates in a contested primary, as Brown is, a donor can give up to the limit twice — once for the primary election, then again for the general election. Here, the money from Rich and the Committee for Economic Growth are single donations attributed to Brown’s primary race.

Six members of the billionaire Jacobs family (Joan, Margaret, Alice, Jeremy, Jeremy Jr., and Louis) gave $5,000 each.


Last-minute donors to Brown campaign

Date Contributor Amount
06/17/2021 Committee for Economic Growth (Buffalo Niagara Partnership) $10,600
06/18/2021 Robert Rich $10,000
06/16/2021 Jeremy Jacobs $5,000
06/16/2021 Jeremy Jacobs Jr. $5,000
06/18/2021 Joan Jacobs $5,000
06/16/2021 Louis Jacobs $5,000
06/18/2021 Margaret Jacobs $5,000
06/17/2021 Alice Jacobs $5,000
06/18/2021 New Yorkers For Putting Students First $5,000
06/18/2021 NK Star Construction $5,000
06/19/2021 Paul Lamparelli $5,000
06/18/2021 Trinity Title & Abstract Corp. $5,000
06/16/2021 Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network $5,000
06/14/2021 1199 SEIU PAC $5,000
06/18/2021 Carmina Wood Morris PC $2,500
06/18/2021 Higgins for Congress $2,500
06/18/2021 Steven Carmina $2,500
06/18/2021 Stieglitz Snyder Architecture $2,500
06/16/2021 Jerome Williams $2,500
06/15/2021 Frank Carone $2,500
06/16/2021 Lawrence Quinn $2,000
06/15/2021 Anthony Colucci III $2,000
06/16/2021 Bridget Williams $1,500
06/17/2021 Red Door Real Estate LLC $1,099
06/19/2021 Jordan Levy $1,000
06/17/2021 Ellen Grant $1,000
06/17/2021 Highmark Health (Blue Cross) $1,000
06/17/2021 Tim Kennedy for Senate $1,000
06/17/2021 Lucia Esquilin $1,000
06/17/2021 M&T and Wilmington Trust PAC $1,000
06/17/2021 Maria Granville $1,000
06/16/2021 James Williams $1,000
06/14/2021 ADPRO Sports $1,000
06/14/2021 Edward Walsh Jr. $1,000
06/14/2021 Frey Electric Construction Co. $1,000
06/14/2021 KeyCorp Advocates Fund NY $1,000
06/14/2021 Patrick Jenkins $1,000
06/14/2021 Performance Management Partners $1,000
06/14/2021 Rhonda Fredrick $1,000
06/14/2021 Richard Hamister $1,000
06/14/2021 Stephen Zenger $1,000
Source: New York State Board of Elections.

On Monday morning, Walton held a press conference outside the headquarters of Delaware North, the Jacobs’ family business, to castigate Brown for accepting donations from people who have also donated to Donald Trump.

“Byron Brown should be ashamed of himself for accepting money from a Trump-supporting billionaire like Jeremy Jacobs, Walton said. “This is more evidence that shows our current mayor does not represent working-class Buffalonians.

One union that has endorsed Brown, 1199 SEIU, gave $5,000, as did a pro-charter school advocacy group based in New York City.

Real-estate developers, architecture and construction firms, healthcare providers, and other companies and individuals with business requiring city approvals or seeking city contracts gave at least $40,000.

Other donors include Congressman Brian Higgins and state Senator Tim Kennedy, as well as a pair of downstate Democratic lobbyists whose activities have drawn scrutiny by reporters and investigators, Patrick Jenkins and Frank Carone.

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Candidates are required to file “24-hour notices” with the state Board of Elections when they receive donations in excess of $1,000 in the period between the mandatory 11-day pre-primary campaign finance filing and 10-day post-primary campaign finance filing. The 24-hour notices are intended to give voters a heads-up on the source of big money flooding into an election at the last minute.

Donations of less than $1,000 don’t require a 24-hour notice. That means the mayor’s seven-day total likely exceeds the amount reflected in the 24-hour filings. For example, attorney Thomas Eoannou hosted a fundraiser for Brown last Thursday at his Richmond Avenue home. The starting price for entry was $99, but those lower-end donations won’t be disclosed until after the primary. 

That may explain why few city employees made this list. While contributions to the boss amounted to a third of the mayor’s fundraising this year through June 7, city employees tend to give in amounts under the $1,000 threshold.

There are a couple exceptions. One of Brown’s two deputy mayors, Ellen Grant, offered $1,000 in tribute to her boss last week. So did Lucia Esquilin, a former Buffalo Fire Department employee, according to state payroll records. Esquilin is married to Buffalo Police Officer Karl Schultz, who made headlines twice last year. 

First, in February, the city paid $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit arising from Schultz’s 2014 shooting of an unarmed teenager. Then, last September, Schultz shot Willie Henley, a mentally disturbed man who swung a baseball bat at police officers who had chased him down Genesee Street and surrounded him. 


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India Walton’s campaign filed two 24-hour notices. Karla Jurvetson, a San Francisco Bay area Democratic political activist and philanthropist, gave Walton $2,000. Carl Dennis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who lives in the Elmwood Village, gave Walton $3,500.

Small donors, giving an average of $44 each, added another $9,000 to Walton’s campaign in the last week, according to campaign staff. Walton raised about $50,000 in June, while also posting high-profile endorsements from Buffalo’s teachers union and a host of national progressive organizations, as well as singer/songwriter Ani Difranco, the actor and political activist Cynthia Nixon, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. 

Walton has raised over $150,000 since her campaign began in January, according to a spokesperson.

Durham, the City Hall employee, has submitted no 24-hour notices. Her campaign has filed one of two required campaign finance disclosure reports. That filing indicated Durham had raised $870 and spent nothing, as of June 6.