The chairman of the New York State Republican Party on Wednesday praised state elections commissioners for tackling what he says Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission would not – investigating a fundraising committee linked to allies such as political operative G. Steven Pigeon of Buffalo.
Chairman Edward F. Cox criticized the governor and his Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption for ignoring complaints about Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus as far back as last fall. The fund has close ties to Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic chairman who contributed more than $100,000 of his own money for caucus television ads that targeted candidates backed by Erie County Democratic Headquarters.
Only after the state’s bipartisan Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to launch a probe of the committee did anyone in Albany paid attention to the complaints, Cox said.
“Andrew Cuomo sees the Moreland Commission as a tool to punish his political opposition,” Cox said. “When it comes to his friends, Cuomo pulls his punches for political purposes. By corrupting his own corruption commission, Andrew Cuomo has become a part of Democrats’ culture of corruption.”
Cox’s comments rank as the highest level of criticism yet over the commission’s failure to probe the WNY Progressive Caucus, which spent $267,000 last year on candidates supported by Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner – who maintains virtually no relationship with Cuomo’s political operation.
Meanwhile, Pigeon is a key political adviser and contributor to the governor in Western New York.
But they echo complaints dating from last fall and reiterated as recently as Tuesday by Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo. “I just wanted to express my extreme displeasure at the Moreland Commission,” she said after the state board’s action. “To not even receive a reply …”
A commission official who asked not to be identified said that, while the commission will not discuss specifics of investigations, it has responded to all correspondence it has received.
Asked to comment on Cox’s accusations, a Cuomo administration official said: “It’s a matter of public record that Moreland has subpoenaed individuals and committees from across the political spectrum, including the State Democratic Party. It’s telling that it’s Ed Cox, who has still never come clean about his role in a plot to buy the Republican nomination for mayor of New York City, who has resisted Moreland’s efforts to investigate corruption in the political process every step of the way.”
Grant and former County Legislator Timothy R. Hogues, D-Buffalo, filed complaints with the Moreland Commission in 2013 after the WNY Progressive Caucus worked against them in the Democratic primary. The two candidates contended that the Pigeon caucus violated election law by coordinating its activities with the individual campaigns, but that allegation was not brought to the state board Tuesday.
The latest complaint was submitted by Erie County’s two elections commissioners – Republican Ralph M. Mohr and Democrat Dennis E. Ward – who a source said presented evidence on discrepancies in what was reported in campaign finance statements and in what was paid to local television stations for the advertising.
The source close to the investigation said those discrepancies were determined through the subpoenas the local board issued.
Pigeon has consistently denied any wrongdoing, contending that he and caucus treasurer Kristy L. Mazurek observed all rules and that any problems resulted from clerical errors that were amended in later campaign finance reports to the state board.
Another complaint to the Moreland panel was filed by Mark A. Sacha, a former Erie County assistant district attorney who has long contended that the Erie County District Attorney’s Office has failed to pursue violations of election law. He was the last person to testify before the commission in Albany last September, and said Wednesday he is glad the board initiated a probe.
“When I testified, I had some faith that it was sincere and real,” he said. “But in light of the fact that the commission canceled any appearance in Buffalo and seems to have shut down public input, I have to conclude it serves (Cuomo’s) political purpose of pretending to do something about political corruption and problems with the election law. It wasn’t sincere.”
Sacha also said he never received any reply to his complaint. “They never responded in any way,” he said. “They never even acknowledged I existed.”
The Buffalo News reported in October the complaints against Pigeon and his ties to Cuomo, including:
• Pigeon has long supported Cuomo, including his endorsement of Cuomo’s ill-fated bid for governor in 2002 when most other Democrats backed then-State Comptroller H. Carl McCall.
• Pigeon remains a key adviser to Cuomo in Western New York, where he is expected to have a role in the governor’s re-election campaign.
• Pigeon contributed $50,000 to Cuomo at his Waldorf-Astoria birthday party in 2012.
• One of Cuomo’s appointees to the commission, Nassau County District Attorney M. Kathleen Rice, was introduced by Pigeon to billionaire B. Thomas Golisano in 2010 when he and Pigeon both wielded significant power in the state Independence Party, according to the Village Voice. At the time, Rice was running for state attorney general.
• Another Cuomo appointee to the commission, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, was getting political advice from Pigeon when Sedita was preparing to run for district attorney. Sacha accused Sedita of giving a pass to Pigeon on alleged election law violations in 2007.
• 2010 GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio criticized then-Attorney General Cuomo for not pursuing what then-Gov. David A. Paterson’s counsel called a “pattern of election law violations” in Erie County linked to Pigeon.
Lazio accused Cuomo of not acting on the conclusion of Paterson’s counsel because of Pigeon’s influence. Cuomo, at the time, cited a lack of jurisdiction in the matter.