Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano Friday dismissed any notion that his Responsible New York political committee has acted improperly in this year's election, labeling calls for a criminal investigation "politically motivated."
The Rochester billionaire, who has pledged $5 million this year to candidates embracing the reforms he championed during three runs for governor, reacted strongly to Erie County Republican Election Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr's allegations that he illegally coordinated his efforts with the State Senate campaign of Democrat Joe Mesi.
"It was for our efforts," he said of Mohr's contention that Responsible New York money improperly aided Mesi. "Cooperation? There are no facts, no evidence, no videotapes, no phone conversations. That's because it does not exist."
Mohr's Thursday letters to the district attorneys of Erie, Niagara and Genesee counties has dropped like a bombshell into the hot contest between Mesi and Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer, which could tip the Senate's balance of power come January.
Golisano said the $4,000 check cited by Mohr from Responsible New York to a political action committee called Citizens for Fiscal Integrity and earmarked for the Mesi contest observes state election law because it funded the committee's efforts and not Mesi's.
He has maintained that as an independent committee, Responsible New York may spend unlimited amounts as long as it does not coordinate with any candidate.
"This check was not a direct donation to Joe Mesi, and even if it was, it would be still OK," Golisano said, explaining it would not have exceeded direct contribution limits set by election law. "It was for our efforts."
He said the check provided payment to Campaign for Fiscal Integrity to perform canvass work for Mesi, in the same vein that his money has financed television ads for Mesi.
And G. Steven Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic chairman who is coordinating Golisano's efforts and who controls Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, emphasized there is no need to "launder" such a small amount in the way Mohr charges.
"What reason would I have to launder $4,000 when we're spending $700,000 in an independent campaign for Joe Mesi?" he asked.
Golisano ascribed political motivations to both commissioners of the Erie County Board of Elections, noting that earlier allegations of coordination were lodged by Mesi's Democratic primary opponent -- Michele M. Iannello -- wife of Democratic Commissioner Dennis E. Ward.
"What is a Board of Elections commissioner doing in this when his wife is a candidate?" he said.
Ward said Friday he supports Mohr's efforts in the case, saying: "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.
"If I do, people say it's because you're mad at Mesi," he said. "If I don't, it's 'you're sitting on it because you're a Democrat.' "
Mohr, meanwhile, did not back down from his request for a criminal investigation, revealing that his subpoenas produced more bank documents on Friday linked to another Pigeon-controlled committee -- People for Accountable Government. He contends that committee also has failed to report contributions and expenditures according to election law requirements.
Mohr insists that if Golisano's committee financed the work of Pigeon's Campaign for Fiscal Integrity on the Mesi campaign, he improperly paid Mesi campaign expenses.
"That's paying a liability of the Mesi campaign outside the campaign reporting structure," Mohr said, "and in my mind, establishes coordination among all three. If the Campaign for Fiscal Integrity worked for the Mesi campaign and Golisano paid for it, absolutely there is coordination."
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said Friday he has received Mohr's "very specific allegations and conclusory statements." He said he intends to study them carefully.
"This comes from a public official who is the first line of defense against violations of election law and I will definitely go through this," he said. "I am not investigating it now, but I will read it and see if these things constitute offenses."
Earlier this month, Jeremy C. Toth, a campaign aide to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, asked Clark to investigate his contention that Responsible New York coordinated with Hoyt's opponent -- Barbra A. Kavanaugh -- in the September Democratic primary.
Golisano, meanwhile, said he continues to contemplate suing The Buffalo News for its reporting of Responsible New York's activities, indicating stories alleging illegalities are damaging his reputation.