A new company has entered the field of election information and analysis in Erie County.
It's offering computerized lists of enrolled voters.
It's offering 24-hour service at the lowest prices available.
And it's offering the consulting services of Theodore Filosofos -- the Democratic deputy commissioner on the Erie County Board of Elections.
"It's my company, but someone else runs it," Filosofos said.
JMF Election Consultants began doing business this year, selling voter registration lists, voting history data and related information to political candidates and others. Filosofos owns the company, but the day-to-day operations are handled by Joseph Cane, a Grand Island man who recently worked at the election board while attending college.
Filosofos said he found office space and obtained a master voter registration list to get the company started.
His only role now is as an unpaid consultant, answering any questions Cane may have, Filosofos said.
"Joe came to me, said he wanted to get into it, and I encouraged him to see if he could make a buck," Filosofos said. "I don't take any money out of the company. It's his."
Some election board employees -- particularly Republicans -- have been privately questioning whether Filosofos' two roles -- Democratic deputy commissioner and private consultant -- pose a conflict of interest. They also point out that JMF is renting office space from a company that has expressed interest in doing business with the Board of Elections.
And at least part of the master voter registration list that Filosofos obtained -- at no cost -- was generated by the firm that has the corner on the voter registration market -- National Time Sharing and Data Services. The election board pays that Niagara Falls-based company to computerize its voter registration lists.
Filosofos denies any conflict.
The deputy commissioner said he isn't using any election board data for JMF and doesn't do any JMF work while at the election board.
He also said he doesn't profit from the company and has no intention of doing so in the future.
What's more, Filosofos said, he went to Midas Computering Services, 5479 Main St., Amherst, to rent office space and computer time for JMF because he was familiar with the company. He worked on a congressional campaign last year that used Midas to do its computer work.
JMF pays full rent to Midas, said John G. Cheney Jr., Midas president. The lease agreement is not connected to a proposal Midas made last year to sell the election board a $700,000 computer system, he added.
"There is absolutely no fooling around," Cheney said. "I have several times in the past created incubator space for use of our services. We have excessive space, and as long as they pay the bills on time, we make it available."
Before JMF went into operation, Filosofos said, he contacted Erie County Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer and was told there was no conflict.
While Filosofos isn't violating the county's current Code of Ethics, NeMoyer said, the Erie County Legislature is considering tougher ethical standards that could cause problems for the deputy elections commissioner.
"I don't know if it would be a violation, but I believe there could be a problem if it were to look like he were using information or knowledge obtained from the election board," NeMoyer said. "We are attempting to avoid appearances of conflicts."
Filosofos, 62, has worked full time at the election board for the past 13 years and now earns $44,000 a year.
The deputy elections commissioner said he formed the JMF corporation -- named after his wife, Jacqueline M. Filosofos -- in 1984. He was thinking of retiring from the election board and starting his own consulting operation, he said.
But his plans changed.
And when Cane approached Filosofos to express interest in the computerized election data field, the deputy elections commissioner said he offered the young man use of his company.
JMF is attempting to sell voter information data at a lower price than National Time Sharing and Data Services.
Using the computer system JMF is renting from Midas, Filosofos' company is selling data from the master voter registration list, including computerized disks, tapes and printouts containing the voter registration list and labels with the names and addresses of registered voters.
JMF will sell a computer tape listing all 517,000 Erie County voters for about $200, Filosofos said. National Time Sharing charges $600 for the same type of information.
The Erie County Board of Elections pays National Time Sharing about $200,000 a year to computerize voter registration data and do election night tabulations for the board.
As part of its contract with the county, National Time Sharing retains the computerized voter registration lists and sells it to political candidates and others.
Most politicians and others in Erie County get voter registration lists from that company.
In fact, part of the master voter registration list that Filosofos obtained to start his company came from National Time Sharing.
Filosofos said he got the list JMF is using from the unsuccessful congressional campaign of George F. Hasiotis 1988.
Filosofos, who worked on Hasiotis' campaign, said he was in charge of computer activities.
Hasiotis said he got his voter registration list from a variety of sources. Some of the data was purchased from National Time Sharing. Some came from other Democrats who had several different lists for different communities. Those lists also may have been generated by National Time Sharing.
Other data came from manual research by Hasiotis campaign workers at the Erie County Board of Elections, he said.
Hasiotis said he had the information put together and turned into a master voter registration filed by Midas Computing Service.
Hasiotis was running in the Democratic primary for the 31st Congressional District seat, which was eventually won by Bill Paxon, R-Amherst.
Hasiotis said his voter registration data covered only the 31st district, which includes much of Erie County, excluding Buffalo. But Filosofos said Hasiotis' campaign list contained registered voters in all of Erie County.
National Time Sharing updates its computer information three or four times a year, to provide its clients with current voter registration lists.
To keep current, JMF will need to obtain that data.
Filosofos said that shouldn't be a problem. His company can either buy the updates from National Time Sharing or can obtain copies from others in the "political arena."
"Updated lists are passed out to political leaders," Filosofos said. "By law, they have to go to the political parties. Sometimes candidates get them. Lists are available to anyone in the political arena."
Charles G. DeWald, president of National Time Sharing, declined to comment on the company Filosofos has formed.
As a deputy elections commissioner, Filosofos argues the county could save money by setting up its own computer system, rather than contracting with National Time Sharing.
In fact, Filosofos said, he is the one who told Midas that the board was looking into buying its own system. And at his suggestion the County Data Processing office began looking into whether the election board should continue leasing or buy a computer system, he said.
No decision has been made on that issue. The Democratic commissioner on the Board of Elections is interested in an in-house system, but the Republican commissioner is not.
If the board follows Filosofos' suggestions, political candidates would be able to get the voter registration data directly from the election board instead of companies such as National Time Sharing or JMF, Filosofos said.
Chances are that the election board could offer the information at a lower rate than a private company, and companies like JMF could be out of business, he said.
"All I'm looking for is the best price for the election board," Filosofos said.