On the day that acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. was asking the Erie County Legislature to strengthen ethics guidelines for local officials, fellow Democrats who oppose him politically followed by aiming their own ethical challenges at him.
John J. Flynn Jr., the endorsed Democrat facing Flaherty in the September primary, first attempted to outdo Flaherty by zeroing in the touchy subject of soliciting contributions from lawyers and others working in the District Attorney’s Office.
Then the third candidate, former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha, joined in after reading that Flynn had challenged Flaherty to join his pledge to refuse any contributions from subordinates in the office.
By day’s end, ethics in the District Attorney’s Office seemed to emerge as a major theme of what is expected to be a three-way, rip-snorting Democratic primary.
On Thursday, Flynn led the charge.
“I personally pledge that I will never solicit or accept donations from any DA employee, regardless of responsibility or rank,” Flynn said. “If Mike Flaherty is as serious about reform as I am, he will make this same commitment and return any money donated to him by the attorneys and staff of the Erie County DA’s Office. I would say to him that ethics start right here in your own office, beginning today.”
The Buffalo News reported in 2013 that some of the staff of then-District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, whom Flaherty served for seven years as top assistant, felt that they were taken advantage of by their boss and his top administrators in a fundraising event that brought in about $80,000 for the Sedita campaign treasury.
Flynn said Thursday that approximately $90,000 of the contributions reported in Flaherty’s campaign finance reports stemmed from employees in his office. He said young prosecutors are “hit up” for donations of $100 or $250, while bureau chiefs are asked for $1,000.
“He’s bankrolling his campaign on the people he hires,” Flynn said, adding that they are also subject to his firing.
“I will never take or solicit contributions once I become DA from anyone in the office,” he said. “And he should return all the money he has taken in this election and pledge not to take it in the future.”
Sacha then joined in, commending Flynn for his challenge to Flaherty.
“For years, I have criticized the unethical coercion used by Flaherty and Sedita to wrench political donations from their employees,” Sacha said. “The practice is wrong, and it must stop.”
But Flaherty countered with his own jab at Flynn and his interest in seeking a variety of elected positions.
“I thank John for finally wading into the ethics debate after all these years as a political candidate,” he said.
But Flaherty would not join his opponents’ promise to refuse contributions from employees in the District Attorney’s Office, noting that any who have contributed to his effort do so “because they know me.”
Flaherty said he does not personally ask his staff to give to his campaign.
“I don’t have anything to do with it,” he said.