Jul 27


Byron Brown’s campaign debts

The mayor’s campaign committee is deep in the hole, by its own accounting. Brown's debts are triple his cash on hand.

Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign committee owes vendors more than $185,000 for goods and services they provided to his re-election effort last year.

That’s according to the committee’s latest filing with the state Board of Elections, which covers all financial activity between Jan. 15 and July 11.

Brown for Buffalo owes more than three times as much as it has cash on hand, according to that report. It owes more than four times what the mayor reported raising over the past six months.

The mayor’s campaign committee lists the debts as “outstanding liabilities/loans,” but most appear to be unpaid invoices. According to state law, any debt not paid off by election day — whether formally negotiated as a loan or not — becomes a donation. 

In the case of the four companies owed the most, these debts-converted-to-donations exceed the state’s limits on campaign contributions. 

The biggest debts, in descending order: 

  • Fourth Idea, $66,143: According to Brown for Buffalo’s July filing, the downtown Buffalo advertising agency has four open invoices totaling nearly $80,000. Brown’s campaign has made partial payments on two of them.
  • The Law Office of Bryan Sells, $38,925: The Atlanta, Georgia, firm represented Brown in his unsuccessful effort to get his name on the general election ballot. Brown’s campaign paid the firm $14,255 before election day. This is the balance due, according to the latest filing.
  • AB Data, $29,750: The Milwaukee data firm’s managing partner would not confirm nor deny the debt, but the Brown campaign reports three invoices totaling $35,000, with one partial payment.
  • Partners Press: $21,126: The Kenmore Avenue firm, a favorite for political campaigns, billed two invoices for printing services. 

In last year’s mayor’s race, the limit for an individual donating to a candidate was about $7,800 for the general election and $5,300 for the primary — or a total of $13,100 over the entire election cycle. 

Corporations are limited to a total of $5,000 in giving to candidates across the state.

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In an email to Investigative Post on Monday, Michael DeGeorge, the mayor’s spokesperson, acknowledged the debt, while ignoring specific questions, including  the possible violations of campaign finance law.

“Brown for Buffalo has paid a number of vendors to date and anticipates settling any remaining balances by the Fall,” DeGeorge wrote.

Indeed, Brown for Buffalo has been chipping away at some of its debts, having made partial payments to three of the four vendors owed the most. Some smaller vendors who were owed money in January — e.g. event production outfit Indigo Productions, campaign consultant and mayoral staffer Max Medwin, and Burkey’s Sportswear — have been paid. 

Two companies who appeared in the mayor’s January filing as owed money — Mustachio’s Pizza ($357) and Kevin’s Catering ($1,080) — are listed in the most recent filing as having forgiven what they were owed.

One question DeGeorge chose not to address was $8,908 owed to Awards by Walsh’s, a company in Cohoes, just north of Albany. The company sells branded t-shirts, tote bags, pens, etc. — items that campaigns like to pass around.

Investigative Post asked DeGeorge if Awards by Walsh’s made the stamps the Brown campaign distributed to voters to “write in” the mayor’s name. He ignored the question. An email to the company’s president went unanswered, as did emails to Fourth Idea and Partners Press.

Between January and July, Brown for Buffalo raised $45,654. The leading donors include architect and developer Steve Carmina ($5,000), restaurateur Russell Salvatore ($5,000), state Republican Party fundraiser Jeffrey Williams ($3,500) and engineering/construction firm owner John DiDonato ($3,500).

The committee spent $55,646. The biggest expenses, apart from paying down debts, were for fundraising — nearly $24,000. 

The committee had $54,425 in the bank as of July 12. Its outstanding debt totals $185,174.

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Last year’s election cycle was fraught for Brown’s campaign finance team.

Last August, a formal complaint was filed with the state elections board, alleging Brown for Buffalo had accepted contributions in excess of legal limits and failed to identify the owners of limited liability corporations that donated to the campaign, among other violations of election law.

In February, at the instruction of the elections board’s enforcement division, Brown for Buffalo amended several previous filings to address the shortcomings. 

In addition, Brown for Buffalo refunded $9,389 to contributors who had donated more than legally allowed, according to a letter the enforcement division sent the complainant, and paid $5,574 “for invoiced expenses not previously reported.” 

The mayor’s committee was assessed no penalties for the violations.