City employees bolster Buffalo mayor’s fundraising - The Buffalo News

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City employees bolster Buffalo mayor’s fundraising

The list includes a prominent pastor’s wife, as well as notable developers and movers and shakers.

But nearly one in four individual donors to Mayor Byron W. Brown’s campaign over the last year are his employees.

A Buffalo News analysis of campaign finance records over the last year found that conservatively, 24 percent of Brown’s individual donors are people who work in his administration.

These employees gave $88,169, or 23 percent of Brown’s total donations from individuals.

One employee, Jason Amos of the Management Information Systems department, made 29 low-dollar contributions, totaling $290.

Another noteworthy donor is Marlino Gress, a seasonal laborer whose name was on a lawsuit against the city over payment of a living wage. Gress donated $1,075 in the last year. The laborers, who are not protected by a collective bargaining agreement, lost their lawsuit in December.

The most generous employee was Vincent Gugliuzza, deputy fire commissioner, who donated $5,400 in the last year. On the list of all individual donors, Gugliuzza’s donation was the second-highest after Howard Zemsky, Larkinville developer and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority chairman, who gave $6,500.

Brown raised $716,915 in the last year. He raised 1,608 contributions from individuals averaging $240, for a total of $389,216. Corporate donations averaged $667 and totaled $173,434. Partnerships, such as law firms, gave $31,475, and other politicians and political action committees gave $122,790.

Bernard A. Tolbert, Brown’s opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, raised $185,965, about a quarter of what the mayor raised in the last year. Most came from individuals. Tolbert’s average donation was higher, at nearly $518, though his total was lower, at $93,506. Corporations made 38 donations to Tolbert, averaging $2,090 and totaling $79,450. Other politicians and political action committees donated $11,009, and $2,000 came from a partnership affiliated with Lawley Insurance.

Employees making donations to the elected officials who gave them their jobs are common at all levels of government, said Bill Mahoney, who analyzes campaign donations with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“Often the people who do give are people who have ties to the political establishment,” Mahoney said.

He acknowledges that the donations may be from people who support good government, but he said strict lines must be drawn between the workplace and campaign activity, and that solicitation of employees or fundraising invitations in the office must be avoided.

“There has to be a complete wall of separation if they want to donate,” he said.

Donations to Brown from city employees have provided a line of attack for Tolbert.

Brown believes employees should be allowed to participate in campaigns if they choose, and he wouldn’t restrict any employee from donating, he said during a debate in late August.

“We don’t go out of our way to ask employees to donate,” he said.

Tolbert has said he would not solicit employees or city contractors for donations.

Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez, who is also running for mayor, said a “culture of fear” that induces donations pervades City Hall.

Many of the employee donations, though not all, came from people who are appointed by the administration, such as department heads. Firefighters, police officers and building inspectors, who are protected by unions, also donated.

Most of Brown’s donations came from donors inside the city. Among all donors – corporations, individuals and political action committees – 64 percent were from Buffalo addresses, and 35 percent came from outside the city. One percent came from unknown addresses.

Brown’s third-highest individual donation came from Ina Chapman, leading lady of St. John Baptist Church, where her husband, the Rev. Michael Chapman, is pastor. Ina Chapman gave $5,000 to Brown and $1,000 to Tolbert.

Both men are members of the church.

For Tolbert, more money came from outside Buffalo than from within the city.

Just 39 percent of donations came from Buffalo addresses, while 58 percent came from outside the city. Three percent of donations were unitemized, with no address attached.

Some of Tolbert’s largest donations came from Michigan, where Arvin L. Jones, a manager with General Motors, gave $5,833, and Ronald M. Pirtle, a former member of the control board in Buffalo and a Delphi Corp. executive, gave $5,000.

The union that represents Buffalo police officers, which endorsed Tolbert, was the campaign’s largest donor, and it gave $7,500.

Tolbert found a lot of support from generous family members. They contributed $11,110, or 6 percent of all of his donations, and gave from addresses in Orchard Park, Pittsford and Montgomery Village, Md.

The $100 campaign contribution was the most common amount from individuals for both mayoral candidates.

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