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Giambra birthday bash set

Joel A. Giambra's friends will throw him a 50th birthday bash that could net the county executive a tidy sum once the expenses are paid.

The $50-a-ticket event in the Rich Renaissance Atrium will coincide with Giambra's birthday Jan. 8, and money left over will be used as a birthday gift for the Erie County executive or go to any charity he designates, said an aide involved in the preparations.

If his friends want to throw him a birthday party, he won't object, Giambra said.

The party will not benefit his political campaign funds, which are fat for a politician not seeking re-election.

Giambra controls a total of $790,000 in his "Friends of Joel A. Giambra" and "Lighthouse Leadership" funds, amassed over eight years with donations from county vendors, his appointees, his friends and other politicians and political interests.
Since his last campaign report filed in July, Giambra picked up another $20,000 from a late-summer barbecue. Giambra's parks commissioner, Angelo Sedita, organized that fundraiser, attended mainly by Giambra appointees.

Even if proceeds from the Jan. 8 party did go to Giambra's political funds it's easy for politicians in New York to convert campaign cash to personal needs or to expenditures that have little bearing on a campaign, even after they leave office.

Giambra, like state legislators and other officeholders, has used campaign money to pay for meals, tickets to sports events, rounds of golf and other entertainment expenses.

New York allows campaign contributions to go toward "any lawful purpose," though the law says personal expenses "shall not be unrelated" to a "political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position."

Since the law gives no example of what is "unrelated," candidates and incumbents apply their own interpretations.

Giambra holds no post in the Republican Party, and it is unlikely he will get one after leaving office. But if he runs for office in the future, the law makes it easy for him to use campaign cash for myriad purposes, said Liam Arbetman, who researches campaign finance and lobbying matters for Common Cause/NY, a government watchdog.

"There's pretty much two things he can't use it for," Arbetman said. "He can't write a personal check to himself. And he can't use it for federal office."

Giambra also can continue donating to charities and to politicians he likes.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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