When Anthony M. Masiello’s lobbying firm filed its required reports with New York State over the last six months, it noted working on “Peace Bridge reconstruction matters” for a local construction trade group.
Under normal circumstances, such efforts by the Buffalo firm of Masiello, Martucci and Calabrese would blend into the lobbying whirlwind of everyday Albany.
But now questions are surfacing because the former mayor is no ordinary lobbyist; he is also Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s appointee to the Peace Bridge Authority. Masiello denies any conflict, but government watchdog types wonder why his firm reported lobbying on “Peace Bridge reconstruction matters” before an executive department like the state Department of Transportation when he is a Cuomo-appointed member of the bridge authority.
Masiello faces a conflict while representing a Western New York trade group called FAIR (Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Resources), contends Kevin P. Connor, director of a nonprofit government watchdog agency called the Public Accountability Initiative.
“It makes zero sense for Masiello to serve on the Peace Bridge board while he is a FAIR lobbyist,” he said. “I just don’t buy it.”
Connor said he is “especially skeptical” about the former mayor’s claim of no conflict because his firm’s lobbying reports mentioned “Peace Bridge reconstruction matters” three times over six months.
“The real issue is that [FAIR] is the primary bridge and infrastructure lobby in the region,” Connor said.
But the former mayor denies any lobby efforts on Peace Bridge issues before either the Legislature or executive branch. He explained that his firm’s attorney – J. Matthew Plunkett – mistakenly cited Peace Bridge reconstruction on the lobby reports following a conversation involving the company’s principals – who include former Deputy County Executive Carl J. Calabrese and former Town of Tonawanda Republican Chairman Victor A. Martucci.
“Our attorney felt compelled to report that,” Masiello said. “But at no time did I talk to anyone. And I never knew he made that notation.”
Plunkett told The Buffalo News he “may have misunderstood the nature of the conversation between [Masiello] and other members of the firm” regarding FAIR. He also noted that because the Peace Bridge Authority remains a separate, binational entity that does not depend on state funding, it would make no sense for Masiello to lobby for bridge interests in Albany.
He characterized his three-time entry of “Peace Bridge reconstruction matters” over six months as “an error in reporting.”
“I tend to be overly cautious in reporting,” Plunkett said. “It’s better to report it and explain after. ... I probably over-reported,” he added.
The former mayor also lobbies for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which also holds a seat on the Peace Bridge Authority.
Masiello explained that FAIR represents several construction companies, contractors, transportation companies, engineers, suppliers and unions in an effort to obtain more state transportation dollars for the four counties of Western New York.
He emphasized that neither he nor anyone in his firm lobbied on Peace Bridge matters.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Masiello said. “If I did represent them, I certainly would disqualify myself.”
Connor points out that at least one major construction company – Oakgrove Construction – and one large union – Operating Engineers Local 17 – are now or have recently worked on the international span. Both are members of FAIR.
Oakgrove President Douglas E. May is a former FAIR president, and Local 17 Business Agent Norm Noon is the current FAIR president. Oakgrove last year was awarded a $1.3 million contract to work on the Peace Bridge widening project, announced in a news release by Cuomo’s office. The groundbreaking ceremony last August was presided over by Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy.
Masiello countered, however, that he was not an authority member when the contract was awarded, did not vote on it, and therefore did not subject himself to a conflict. He also said he views no conflict between the Operating Engineers working on the bridge and their membership in FAIR.
“I don’t see it as a conflict because they are a union and working for companies I’m not associated with,” he said. “If they were a member of a company that is part of FAIR – yes.”
Masiello said he would recuse himself from any potential votes on the Peace Bridge Authority that would conflict with his business interests. He also said his firm needs to readdress how it reports its lobbying activities for FAIR on its bimonthly reports to Albany.
Still, Connor says Masiello’s work for FAIR as the group represents a construction industry active on the Peace Bridge raises larger questions.
“FAIR has a clear interest here in that its members are seeking these contracts,” he said.