Big donors to Brown and Walton

Corporate and Republican donors backing the mayor, while the challenger relies mostly on small contributions.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

Byron Brown’s usual cast of campaign donors are digging deep to support his write-in campaign for mayor, showering the four-term incumbent with $851,000 since he lost the Democratic primary on June 22 to India Walton.

Brown’s donors include developers and other companies who do business with the city and patronage employees who depend on the mayor for a paycheck. A number of noteworthy Republicans have also donated significant sums.

In many cases, support for Brown is a family affair. 

For example, four Nanulas — Anthony, Paul, Philip, and Steven — chipped in $25,000 between them. Anthony Nanula is a former Buffalo comptroller and state senator, now a real estate investor who splits time between Clarence and San Diego.

Developer Doug Jemal and his son, Norman, combined to donate $15,400. Another family of developers, the Ciminellis — in this case Paul, Kyle and Danielle — gave $15,600. The Marrano family, developers of the Colvin Estates in North Buffalo, gave $15,297.

Among Brown’s Republican donors are members of the Williams family — Jeffrey and Jerome — who gave $11,000. Amherst developer William Huntress gave $7,000. Developer Nick Sinatra kicked in $5,000.

A host of City Hall employees and their families gave to the boss’s campaign in varying amounts. Leading the way was William Renaldo, the city’s fire commissioner, who — with his wife, Gloria — gave $3,550. 

Joseph Gramaglia, the deputy police commissioner, and his wife, Sarah, gave $1,550 individually, but they also hosted a fundraiser for Brown at their North Buffalo home in mid-September that yielded many thousands more.


BROWN’S $7,000 CLUB

(Donations of $7,000 or more to Brown for Buffalo, June 23-Sep. 27, 2021.)
Donor Address Amount Interest
Arlinda  Marrano West Palm Beach, FL $7,797 Real estate
Donald  Brown Buffalo, NY $7,750 Healthcare
Douglas  Jemal Washington, DC $7,700 Real estate
Gary  Bichler Williamsville, NY $7,700 Real estate
Jodi  Osinski Buffalo, NY $7,700 Construction
Kyle  Ciminelli Orchard Park, NY $7,700 Real estate
Mark  Longo Buffalo, NY $7,700 Law
Norman  Jemal Washington, DC $7,700 Real estate
Paul  Ciminelli Buffalo, NY $7,700 Real estate
Peter  Hunt Depew, NY $7,700 Real estate
Richard  Gioia Buffalo, NY $7,700 Law, finance
Joseph  Antunovich Chicago, IL $7,500 Architect
Julia  Spitz Buffalo, NY $7,500 Real estate
William  Huntress Williamsville, NY $7,000 Real estate
Total $106,847

Since June 23, Brown has pulled in 232 donations of $1,000 or greater, accounting for $586,000 — more than two-thirds of his money. 

Walton, the Democratic nominee who is the only candidate with her name on the ballot, racked up 70 donations of $1,000 or more, accounting for $158,000 — one quarter of the $617,000 she has raised since winning the primary.

Brown outspent Walton in the last three months, as well: He’s burned through $541,000 to Walton’s $247,000. 

Both candidates entered the last month of campaigning with plenty of money to spend. Brown reported having $464,000 on hand as of Sep. 27, while Walton reported having $360,000 in the bank. 

Neither is likely to leave anything in the tank. When the books finally close on this mayoral race, it may prove to be the most expensive in the city’s history.

Different support bases

The Brown and Walton campaigns have filed two finance reports since the primary. The reports — one in mid-July, the next on Oct. 1, 31 days before election day — highlight the stark differences between the candidates and their supporters.

Brown’s campaign chest is built on big donations from both individuals and corporations. Walton has comparatively few big donors, having largely eschewed support from corporate entities.

It’s impossible to know from Walton’s campaign finance reports how many small donors she has, because the campaign doesn’t itemize donations of $99 or less. That’s permitted by state election law, but obscures the source of a significant share of her support. 

Since the primary, the Walton campaign has pulled in $218,000 in unitemized donations, more than one-third her total fundraising. We don’t know who those donors are, where they live, or how much they gave. 

Walton’s two most recent reports do itemize about $99,000 in donations of $100 or less. Add that sum to the itemized donations, and about $317,000 of Walton’s campaign money — more than half — comes from small donors.

Brown’s campaign raised $105,000 in donations of $100 or less, accounting for about 12 percent of his total.

Much has been made of Walton’s out-of-town support, and it is considerable. Some of her biggest donors reside elsewhere.


WALTON’S $5,000 CLUB

(Donations of $5,000 or more to Friends of India Walton, June 23-Sep. 27, 2021.)
  Donor Address Amount Interest
Carl  Nightingale Buffalo, NY $7,797.90 Law/academia
Nergesh  Tejani Brooklyn, NY $7,797.90 Healthcare/academia
Karla  Jurvetson Los Altos, CA $7,797.70 Philanthropist
Martha  McCluskey Buffalo, NY $7,797 Law/academia
Carl  Dennis Buffalo, NY $7,796 Poet
Farhad  Ebrahimi Boston, MA $5,281.30 Philanthropist
Courage to Change Corona, NY $5,000 Political committee
Jason  Katz-Brown Point Richmond, CA $5,000 Political activist
Marc  Panepinto Buffalo, NY $5,000 Law
Maria  Scrivani Buffalo, NY $5,000 Political activist
Rochester Regional Joint Board Rochester, NY $5,000 Labor
Trinity Title and Abstract Buffalo, NY $5,000 Real estate
Trojka DWA, Inc. Buffalo, NY $5,000 Real estate
Zellner for ECDC Chair Tonawanda, NY $5,000 Political committee
Total $84,267.80

 


Again, the unitemized contributions introduce a wild card into calculations. However, of the $399,000 in itemized donations, 45 percent came from donors with Buffalo addresses; 8 percent from elsewhere in Western New York, including Rochester; and the remaining 47 percent from farther afield. 

Especially well represented were donors from in and around New York City, who dropped about $86,000 into Walton’s coffers. That’s more than 14 percent of her total haul.

The geography of Brown’s donors is far different. By dollar amount, 60.5 percent of his donations came from Buffalo addresses; 33.6 percent came from the suburbs and throughout the region, and 5.9 percent came further afield. 

Big spending

In the past three months, Brown has outspent Walton campaign by more than two-to-one. In all, he has spent $541,000 to Walton’s $247,000.

Brown’s biggest expenses:

  • $200,000 for TV ads, two of which began running the first week of September.
  • $103,000 on salaries for campaign staff, including $34,000 for professionals brought in from out of town (Conor Hurley, Sofia Quintanar) and $21,000 for mayoral staffer Max Medwin.
  • $80,000 for lawyers who tried and failed to win a ballot line for Brown.
  • $44,000 at the end of August for polling, the results of which have not been released publicly.
  • $24,000 in fundraising expenses.
  • $20,000 for the lawn signs that began sprouting across the city in July.

Walton’s biggest expenses:

  • $58,000 on campaign salaries, including $6,000 for a communications director (Jesse Myerson) and $25,000 for the campaign’s recently departed campaign co-managers (De’Jon Hall and Kartika Carr); no payments are listed in the most-recent report for Walton’s new campaign manager, Drisana Hughes.
  • $50,000 for lawyers who helped fight Brown’s effort to get his name on the ballot.
  • $19,000 for lawn signs, which only began to appear in late September.
  • $5,000 at the beginning of August for polling, the results of which have not been released publicly.
  • $5,000 on security for Walton, who told the Washington Post a Brown supporter “chucked a cup of coffee” on her last month.

Walton also spent $16,000 to produce a TV commercial that began airing last week. The cost of buying ad time was not included in the most-recent campaign finance report, which cuts off at Sep. 27.

Past mayoral campaigns

In 2017, when Mark Schroeder challenged Brown, the two candidates spent a combined $1.6 million. In 2013, when Bernie Tolbert took on Brown, the two spent about $1.7 million.

The price tag on this year’s mayoral race is likely to far exceed those totals.

In the six months leading up to the primary, the two candidates spent a combined $630,000. Brown outspent Walton in that period by more than three to one.

In the three months since the primary, they’ve spent nearly $800,000.

Add to that $1.4 million already spent the $824,000 the two candidates reported on hand as of Sep. 27. 

Then consider the money Walton and Brown will continue to raise — and spend — in the four weeks left before Nov. 2. Both are likely to benefit from independent expenditures, as well.

In the end, the cost of this mayoral election is sure to approach — and likely push past — the $3 million mark.