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Find a better use for ex-pols' election funds

So much for the notion that you can't take it with you.

Ex-Mayor Tony Masiello didn't just leave office with a pen-and-pencil set. A News story revealed that he took $782,000 in unspent campaign funds. Because Masiello didn't run for re-election, which is what he got the money for, you would think he would do something other than pocket the cash. Like disperse the money to charitable foundations. Or give it back to the people who donated.

Forget it. Like a legion of departing politicians before him, he can take it with him. From Buffalo to Albany to Washington, that's the law. Jack Quinn and John LaFalce each left Congress with more than $700,000 in unspent campaign funds. Countless state lawmakers left office with campaign lucre. Lame duck Joel Giambra's campaign kitty totals $820,000. Masiello is merely the latest to board the gravy train.

They can do anything with the money except spend it for personal use. But the rules are so vague, among the "nonpersonal" items Masiello reportedly bought were $2,158 in Sabres tickets, $300 in baseball tickets and a $100 club membership.

"The way the law is written," said Rachel Leon of Common Cause-New York, the good-government group, "there are a bazillion ways to get around the [personal use] restriction."

Mostly, though, ex-officeholders turn themselves into one-person PACs, giving money to the party or favored candidates. It gives them power long after they've left office.

"Time after time," said Leon, "the funds are not used for their original purpose."

What makes it more galling is the bulk of campaign donations are drawn by the power of the office, not the person in it. Any mayor, for instance, gets money from an army of attorneys, contractors, developers, realtors and architects looking to do business with City Hall. City workers contribute as a means of job protection. It amounts to a legal shakedown.

"We see stuff like this all the time [in Albany]," said Common Cause's Leon. "It's not illegal, but there ought to be a lot more restrictions on what you can do [with leftover campaign dollars]."

Given politicians' distaste for self-reform, don't hold your breath.


My taste in clothes doesn't rival Byron Brown's, but I couldn't help but notice some fashion abominations at the Olympics. Some of the women's costumes in ice dancing looked like they'd been shredded by wolves. And pity the Russian speedskaters, whose red-and-white geometric abstractions looked like the product of a failed designer's fever dream. I expect to see piles of them next month in the Goodwill discount bin.


Our hearts go out to Don Herbert and family. The Buffalo firefighter succumbed this week to complications from injuries suffered battling a blaze 10 years ago. We applaud him, his wife and their children for their courage, recall the blessed day he temporarily revived, and send our condolences.


Maybe there's a happy ending after all. Developer Rocco Termini says he can save the grand-but-hurting Webb Building, steps from the towering HSBC Bank headquarters.

Developer Carl Paladino bought the 1888 building years ago for office space, then backed off when the bottom dropped out of the downtown market. He watched the building deteriorate and pushed for demolition.

Paladino has done some nice restoration projects, but he didn't cover himself in glory with this one. At least he sold it at a discount to Termini, who is a master at lining up pots of money. If Termini brings the Webb back to life as an apartment building, he deserves a medal. Or at least a horde of prospective renters.


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