Joseph V. Treanor III takes an unusual stand for a political candidate in modern-day Erie County: He will not accept campaign donations as he runs for district attorney.
But would he let his allies – say, special interest groups that like him, or the county Republican Party – spend their own money to promote him in their own way?
They just should expect no favors in return, he says.
“What other people do, or don’t do, they do that on their own,” Treanor said.
The U.S. Supreme Court protects independent political spending as a right of free speech, so Treanor knows he cannot block outsiders from going into their own accounts to win votes for him. But he’s not asking them to.
“It’s not as though I wouldn’t appreciate the financial help,” he said. “But the greater good is in maintaining the independence of the office.”
Treanor late last year enrolled as a Conservative. The Republican Party this year endorsed him as its candidate and will spend money campaigning for him “if we can make the difference,” Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said. He has already discussed the possibility with Treanor.
“If I independently decide to do something, that’s not something he wants to have his hands on,” Langworthy said of the candidate.
The Republican Party doesn’t always field a candidate for district attorney. It’s even more unusual for a Republican to win the office. The last was Richard Arcara in 1985 – before Erie County started electing its top prosecutor in presidential election years.
For decades, a Democrat has held the office, in part because Democratic turnout rises in presidential years. The trend could continue this year, though Republican Party headliner Donald Trump has shown he can make a splash here. He drew 12,000 to a rally in downtown Buffalo.
By vowing to self-finance his campaign, Treanor places himself at a big disadvantage, says Joel A. Giambra, who as a Republican won two countywide races for Erie County executive.
“The reality is, you need large resources to compete on a countywide basis, especially as a Republican,” Giambra said.
Candidates running countywide should expect to spend at least six figures for their campaigns, he said, or they need a “real sophisticated ‘earned media’ operation” to help them generate their own headlines.
He said he doubts that the “Trump effect” will be enough to counter the Democratic turnout. He also doubts that the Republican committee will unleash vast sums on Treanor’s behalf without polling data to show it’s a wise investment.
“If they spend some money, and it moves the needle, they will spend a little more,” he said.
Treanor, 57, is a retired Air Force colonel who holds no public office that might help him make news. The only money that has flowed so far into his “Treanor for District Attorney” campaign fund is the $11,000 he loaned it.
By contrast, Democratic candidate John J. Flynn Jr., 50, pulled more than $393,000 into his fund from myriad donors as he fought his way through a tough Democratic Party primary that pitted him against two other candidates.
Among the special interest groups that like Treanor is the pro-gun Shooters Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE. Treanor says he supports the Second Amendment and dislikes New York’s SAFE Act regulating the ownership of military-style rifles. He doesn’t go as far as Republican Sheriff Timothy B. Howard has done in saying he will not enforce the SAFE Act. But Treanor indicates he would tread cautiously when prosecuting someone charged with violating its terms.
“If I were to win,” Treanor said, “I would have a sworn duty to uphold the law.”
But he added: “I am not a fan of turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into felons because they happened to make a mistake with respect to the rather onerous provisions of the SAFE Act.”
SCOPE does not usually spend money from its political action committee on direct campaigning for candidates. It uses the PAC’s money to buy tickets for fundraisers, said Chairman Harold “Budd” Schroeder, who added that the group is not likely to make an exception for Treanor. But SCOPE grades candidates for their positions on the Second Amendment and could potentially give Treanor an A rating, he said.
But then, Flynn might receive a high rating, too, Schroeder said. Flynn was endorsed by the Erie County Conservative Party, before Treanor snatched the endorsement away from him in that party’s primary. The Conservatives, Schroeder reasons, don’t endorse candidates who don’t support the Second Amendment.
When contacted, the Flynn campaign did not reveal his opinions about the SAFE Act and instead released this statement from him: “District Attorneys do not pass laws,” Flynn said. “They cannot choose which laws to prosecute and which to ignore. If I am elected DA and law enforcement brings my office a Safe Act violation, I will enforce the law as currently enacted. My personal beliefs do not impact my adherence to the rule of law.”