WELLSVILLE – If you live in Allegany County, you probably know Charlie Joyce.
He’s the businessman who runs Otis Eastern, the big pipeline and oil industry supply outfit between Wellsville and Andover. He also helps nearby Alfred and St. Bonaventure universities, served on the local hospital board and the United Way, and is enshrined in the Allegany County Sports Hall of Fame.
But in recent years the oil and gas man has been making his mark on the national stage.
The unassuming guy from Allegany County is a major contributor to the national Republican Party. Personally or through his family and business, Joyce has contributed more than $1 million over the past four years, mostly to GOP causes, and sits on the Republican National Committee.
Charlie Joyce from Wellsville may be the most influential Republican in all of New York State and yet few have ever heard of him.
“I don’t do it to be recognized,” Joyce said at his sprawling Otis Eastern complex along Route 417. “There’s just a real need for people to work in the background. I do the grunt stuff and let the others get out in front.”
Consider that Joyce, 66, is one of only two New Yorkers sitting on the Republican National Committee. Or that he is a member of the Executive Roundtable of the Republican Governor’s Association. Or that he is on big-money panels like the RNC’s Regents, the National Republican Senate Committee’s Majority Makers Club and the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Chairman’s Club.
He helps organize fundraisers for Donald Trump at swanky Manhattan venues like the Pierre Hotel, and writes checks for lots of GOP House and Senate contenders (along with a rare Democrat or two). When Erie County Republicans a few weeks ago looked to stage a fundraiser, Joyce imported an old friend – former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer – to the Arizona Cardinals-Buffalo Bills game and a luncheon for the local GOP.
He will help the New York State Republican Committee, or maybe even the Kentucky Republican Party. He likes both local Rep. Tom Reed and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. And you will see his name on political action committees and special interest efforts like the Congressional Leadership Fund.
Though many loathe the influence of big-money donors in national politics, Joyce shrugs his shoulders and quietly goes about his business. He’s got some things to say, and his money provides a bully pulpit.
“I don’t keep track of the money. If I did, I would probably slow down,” he said. “But it’s not to court favor or back some particular agenda. It’s what I believe.”
Joyce regularly hops down to New York or Washington on his own plane for party events, but he seems more at home in the Otis Eastern yard surrounded by giant oil and gas pipeline equipment.
His work clothes can be spattered from the mud and grease he encounters daily, and he seems to prefer bulldozers and energy topics to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
But in his tidy office crowded with Yankees and Bills memorabilia (Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are favorites), Joyce reflects on why he has become so deeply involved over the past few years.
“I don’t consider myself a fat cat,” he said. “I consider myself a guy with a successful business. With the 40 percent of the income that the state and federal governments allow me to have, I should be able to spend it as I see fit.
“My politics is smaller government, more personal freedom and less regulation,” he continued. “Our business is a perfect example of how those points hit home.”
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, who in September flew on the Joyce plane to Long Island for the first presidential debate, presented the Erie County GOP’s Jack Kemp Leadership Award to Joyce on Friday. He acknowledges he knew little about the guy from Allegany County until recently. Now he could not be more enthusiastic about a local individual assuming “such a big seat at the table for New York State and particularly upstate New York.”
“He’s understated, and that’s his personality. He doesn’t hold himself out there and brag about it,” Langworthy said. “Some people do it for notoriety and fame. Charlie is the antithesis of that.
“But he’s become a big player,” Langworthy added, “when a lot of other people like him are sitting home on their toy boxes.”
Former Allegany County Republican Chairman William J. Heaney knew his late father, Charles H. Joyce, who also was a leading local force.
“Charlie got political a few years ago and started moving and grooving,” Heaney said. “Now he knows the right people and the right buttons to push.”
Heaney noted that Joyce’s money flows not only to Republican causes, but to charity, too.
“He’s a true philanthropist,” he said. “He’s never forgotten where he came from.”
True to his roots
Joyce makes no apologies for his Andover roots when raising money in Manhattan or dealing with national candidates. He champions the upstate cause whenever possible and reserves a message for those he helps.
“I believe that I’m the first national committeeman from Western New York, and I think it brings home benefits because I am able to communicate with the New York City members,” he said. “And I insist that candidates come to Western New York and help our area candidates.”
Neither has Joyce forgotten the business he comes from – oil and gas. Running such a business in New York – even in traditional turf like the Southern Tier – presents a challenge for people in his industry. His workers regularly travel 300 or 400 miles each week to work in fracking-friendly states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Cuomo administration’s ban on fracking means Joyce’s company cannot expand in his home state and that his workers overseeing pipelines and other gas installations must often spend their work weeks away from their homes and families.
“Our business is growing every place but New York State,” he said. “That’s because our governor, and through him state agencies like the (Department of Environmental Conservation), have declared total war on fossil fuel in New York State. There is $5 billion to $6 billion right now in projects being held up by DEC.”
That means construction jobs, operator jobs and more business for power plants have been stymied by Albany, he says. So why does he stay?
“I could move 10 miles away into Pennsylvania and not have the issue,” he said. “But this is home. I grew up here and my family is here. Albany makes it almost impossible, but we stick it out.”
That’s exactly the kind of talk that endears Joyce to major figures like state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox, who has long placed anti-fracking regulations at the top of his list of grievances against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“It’s a question of natural gas being the cheapest, cleanest energy,” Cox said. “People like Andrew Cuomo say no natural gas, no way, and that doesn’t make any sense. Charlie understands this is not just about his business, it’s about what’s right for the country.
“He understands business and works in an area where it is restrained,” he added. “He just wants to get it done.”
Trump by default
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Good-government groups have long complained about the power of big money in government. They say heavy hitters like Joyce corrupt a system through their “pay to play” attitude and ability to write big checks to one entity that then get funneled through the political system.
Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, acknowledges that big donors like Joyce are playing by the rules. But he thinks the rules should be changed.
“It’s America, and those with the gold rule,” he said, adding that the system under which Joyce can affect his near and dear causes only underscores the inequities of the system.
“People with the money have a megaphone and the rest of America with less money is reduced to a civic whisper,” he said.
Joyce doesn’t disagree.
“I get a lot of phone calls, and when I see the 202 [Washington area code] lots of times I just let it go,” he said.
He thinks that money sometimes overwhelms good intentions.
“There’s a need for change when you get PACs and big investor guys involved,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing stricter limits on what corporations and individuals give to PACs.”
But for now, he keeps on giving. He has emerged as a major supporter of GOP U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long and her long-shot effort against incumbent Sen. Charles E. Schumer.
“I don’t believe he’s done much for Western New York at all, and I don’t like his politics,” he said.
He also admires Ryan, but became a Trump supporter by default after the field winnowed.
“I’m a Trump guy because he is our candidate and I feel his plan for our country is in tune with my feelings,” he said. “I’m not thrilled. I thought he was genuine in his approach,” Joyce said of the second debate.
Joyce thinks Trump can win, but he also is looking ahead. The party establishment has moved past the Jeb Bushes and John McCains of the world, he said, while figures like Ryan and Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus will emerge.
In the meantime, Joyce said he will keep on donating. He sees good things for the party in the future, and believes it will survive with or without Trump.
“I’m not worried. It will clean itself out no matter which way the election goes,” he said. “We have to make changes, but it has all been blurred by Trump.”
That’s just fine with GOP leaders like Langworthy. He pointed to a Trump-Pence fund-raiser in New York last week that Joyce helped sponsor, noting Republican politics doesn’t get much bigger.
“He’s certainly come a long way from Wellsville,” Langworthy said. “But that just shows the impact player Charlie Joyce has become. And we’re lucky to have him.”