Jul 19


Brown campaign still violating election law

The mayor's disclosure reports still don't identify donors, most of them developers, who contribute through LLCs. Filings also show continued reliance on money from municipal employees and firms doing business with City Hall.

After a delay his campaign attributed to “technical difficulties,” Mayor Byron Brown’s July campaign finance disclosure was posted to the New York State Board of Elections website on Saturday.

Here’s what the filing revealed:

  • After a flood of donations received the week before the June 22 primary, the mayor’s fundraising has been anemic compared to that of India Walton, who beat him to win the Democratic Party line in the November general election.
  • As previously reported, Brown’s campaign continues to rely on donations from City Hall employees, patronage hires, city vendors, big real estate developers and a variety of well-to-do business people and their families.
  • The mayor’s campaign continues to flout state election law governing donations by limited liability corporations, or LLCs.

Let’s take those in reverse order.

In its July filing, the Brown campaign continues to ignore a two-and-a-half-year-old change in state election law meant to close the so-called “LLC loophole,” by which business people used to be able to exceed limits on individual donations to candidates by giving money through limited liability corporations, or LLCs. 

This was a particularly popular loophole for real estate developers, who often create an LLC for each property they control.

Since January 2019, state election law has required candidates to reveal the owners of every LLC that contributes to their campaigns. An LLC’s contribution is apportioned among its owners and counts toward each owner’s individual contribution limit.

The Brown campaign rarely does this

In the mayor’s July filing, for example, there are 10 donations of $99 each attributed to LLCs sharing a single address in Buffalo: 391 Washington Street, Suite 800. That’s the office of Rocco Termini’s Signature Development, and all the LLCs are associated with Termini properties.

Nowhere is any portion of the $990 attributed to Termini or his partners, if he has any, in those LLCs. 

Similarly, there’s a $1,000 donation from Schneider Development LLC, with an address of 443 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. That’s architect and developer Jake Schneider. Nowhere does the Brown campaign break down the contribution among Schneider and any partners he may have in that LLC.

That’s not Termini’s or Schneider’s fault. State law puts the onus on a campaign’s treasurer to break down LLC contributions by partner. 

The treasurer for the mayor’s campaign committee, Brown for Buffalo, is Jessica Smith, according to the state Board of Elections. Smith is an executive assistant to Brown, for whom she’s worked since he was a state senator. She earned $96,477 last year, according to state payroll records. There is no indication in the mayor’s July campaign finance disclosures that she was paid for her campaign work. 

Investigative Post previously attempted to contact Smith via email and phone regarding the campaign’s handling of LLC contributions but received no reply.

Contributions from city employees

Neither Smith nor her husband, Tom Smith — also a City Hall employee, also with Brown since his days in the State Senate — gave money to their boss this filing cycle. 

They have in the past. As Investigative Post reported previously, Brown’s May 21 campaign finance report showed people who owed their jobs to Brown accounting for about one-third of the money raised in that cycle.

That’s evident in this July filing, as well. 

 In the 33-day period covered by the July filing, Brown’s campaign raised a little over $201,000. Most of that — more than $182,000 — came in before the June 22 primary.

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Almost two-thirds of the $182,000 came the week before the primary, as a number of well-heeled supporters dumped last-minute cash into Brown’s campaign, which had been a pretty quiet affair through the spring. A handful of those last-minute donors of $1,000 or more were City Hall employees. Most were developers, business people, and their relatives.

However, the remaining one-third of the last-minute money — more than $60,000 — drew heavily on smaller, individual donations from people who owe their jobs, directly or indirectly, to the mayor. The list of donors under $1,000 includes police officers, firefighters, and building inspectors, among others. It includes business people who have contracts with or business before the city, as well as real-estate developers and law firms. 

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That last-minute money helped pay for a flood of TV advertising ($135,000) and mailers ($25,000) in the final week before the primary, as well as paid canvassers ($22,000) to go door-to-door and a billboard ($13,000). It also helped cover the cost of a poll ($29,500) Brown’s campaign commissioned in early June. 

But all that money and effort came too late: Walton’s better organized, mostly volunteer team beat Brown on primary day.

Big drop-off since primary loss

After his loss, Brown’s fundraising dried up. In the six days between the primary and his announcement that he would pursue a write-in campaign, Brown raised just shy of $8,000. In the 13 days that followed, he raised a little under $11,000.

One of those donations was $5,000 from developer Doug Jemal, whose Statler Hotel hosted the mayor’s June 28 announcement that he would run a write-in campaign against Walton in the November general election. 

So, since his primary loss to Walton, Brown has been averaging less than $1,000 a day in donations. In that same period, Walton has collected about $178,000, for an average of $9,368 per day — nearly 10 times the rate of Brown’s fundraising.

Nonetheless, Brown ended the most recent campaign finance cycle with an edge over Walton. 

He started the cycle with a little over $301,000 in the bank. He raised a little over $201,000, all told, and spent $294,000. That left his campaign with a balance of about $209,000, as of July 11. 

Walton reported about $147,000 in the bank, after raising nearly $199,000 in the cycle.

However, fundraising momentum appears to be on Walton’s side. The mayor’s report shows 90 percent of his donations coming in before he lost the primary. Walton’s report shows 90 percent of her money coming in after she beat him.

Investigative Post

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