Erie County's Republican elections commissioner is alleging that former Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon laundered thousands of dollars from Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano's political committee and others in an attempt to conceal the origin and circumvent contribution limits, in violation of state election law.
In a Thursday letter to the district attorneys of Erie, Niagara and Genesee counties, Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr submitted records he subpoenaed from a bank representing Pigeon's Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, along with evidence that it missed 22 reporting deadlines
and exceeded campaign contribution limits.
In addition, Mohr said he will expand his own probe of another Pigeon committee -- Citizens for Accountable Government -- as well as Responsible New York, the Golisano effort expected to spend $5 million on New York State elections this year.
"It has become apparent that the committee operating under the name Citizens for Fiscal Integrity may be participating in a nefarious and deliberate scheme to circumvent the financial reporting requirements of the election law," Mohr wrote.
Any resulting probe could affect the Democratic campaign of State Senate candidate Joe Mesi, who benefited from Pigeon's committee. Mohr produced a Responsible New York check signed by Golisano and designated on the memo line for "consulting" in the 61st District primary, in which Golisano supported Mesi.
"There's a reason why it did not go directly to Mesi, because they did not want to show a direct contribution to Mesi," Mohr told The Buffalo News.
That causes a problem because Golisano and Pigeon have always maintained that Responsible New York could spend unlimited amounts of money as long as it did not collaborate with any campaign.
"It's no secret that Tom Golisano supports Joe Mesi," Mohr said. "But he should do what every other citizen does -- support his candidate [according to contribution limits]. Instead, this vehicle was set up to circumvent the filings required of the election law."
He also said the probe would have hit a dead end had not Golisano designated his check memo for the 61st District primary.
"Apparently, Mr. Golisano is very thorough," Mohr said.
The newest allegations closely mirror an official complaint filed earlier this month by Jeremy C. Toth, a campaign aide to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who asked Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark to investigate his allegation that Responsible New York coordinated with Hoyt's opponent, Barbra A. Kavanaugh, in September's Democratic primary.
Similarly, Mesi opponent Michael H. Ranzenhofer said as recently as last weekend that Golisano's group was illegally coordinating its campaign with Mesi. Previously, Mesi's opponent in the Senate primary, Michele M. Iannello, had made similar complaints to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.
The News has previously reported that the Pigeon committees on several occasions received substantial contributions from former County Executive Joel A. Giambra's hefty campaign fund, and in turn financed Giambra candidates. That was seen as a way for some Giambra-favored candidates to distance themselves from him at a time when he was politically unpopular.
Mohr said that David B. Pfaff, a Pigeon ally connected with one of the committees, told the Board of Elections late this summer that it had no jurisdiction over it and that it would not cooperate with its demands for timely filings. That prompted Mohr to exercise his subpoena powers, resulting in the discovery of contributions that he said exceeded limits.
The commissioner also said that subpoenaed bank records contradicted a Citizens for Fiscal Integrity filing of no activity in the first half of 2008, prompting the Pigeon panel to file a new document revealing $5,000 in contributions and expenditure of $4,000 on three campaigns.
Mohr's complaint said Citizens for Fiscal Integrity failed to disclose $25,250 in contributions and $35,249 in expenditures over the last three years. He also cited the committee's efforts on behalf of Pigeon ally and Assembly candidate Gary D. Parenti in Niagara County in 2006.
"Of similar interest is the numerical proximity of money orders appearing on both the financial records of Citizens for Fiscal Integrity and the Parenti campaign," Mohr wrote. "While Citizens for Fiscal Integrity determined to conceal such contributions from disclosure, similarly numbered money orders disclosed by the Parenti campaign on two occasions resulted in contributions in excess of the legal limit."
Pigeon did not return a phone call seeking comment. Clark was unavailable.