Campaign contributions from developer Louis P. Ciminelli, his wife, his companies and their top employees totaled $650,000 from 2000 through mid-2016 – and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been the biggest recipient, a Buffalo News analysis found.
Ciminelli’s extended family – his brother, late father and others – also has made significant political donations. Louis Ciminelli’s brother Paul F. Ciminelli, who owns Ciminelli Real Estate, made about $255,000 in political contributions during that same period, The News found. And their father, Frank L. Ciminelli, who died in 2014 and had founded the companies his sons now run, contributed, along with his wife, Rosalie, $250,000 during the time period.
Add it all up, and the Ciminellis, their companies and a few of their top employees directed nearly $1.2 million toward political war chests in the last 16 years, The News found.
Louis Ciminelli has emerged as the king of political donors in his family, spending more than his father and brother combined. And his favorite politician, by far, is Cuomo.
And while Louis Ciminelli long has been making political donations, his spending has ratcheted up in recent years, with sizable contributions also made to the campaigns of the state comptroller and attorney general, The News found.
Campaign contributions are legal as long as they comply with limits set by the state, and no one has suggested that Ciminelli’s donations exceed those limits.
Federal prosecutors said last week that none of the charges filed in the alleged pay-to-play scheme related to illegal campaign donations. However, they also said donations by Buffalo and Syracuse developers were “intended at least in part to develop a relationship with the Office of the Governor that would enable the Syracuse developer and the Buffalo developer to obtain state-funded development contracts.”
LPCiminelli executives previously have said the company’s support for Cuomo reflects Louis Ciminelli’s belief that Cuomo is a strong supporter of Buffalo. However, Louis Ciminelli’s political spending is nonetheless generating interest in light of criminal charges that Manhattan-based U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed last week against him and two other LPCiminelli executives among a total of nine defendants.
Attorneys for Ciminelli, chairman and CEO of LPCiminelli, as well as Michael W. Laipple, president of LPCiminelli’s infrastructure division, and Kevin C. Schuler, a senior vice president, insist that the three are not guilty of the felony charges they face in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme that includes the contract to build the SolarCity solar panel factory at RiverBend in South Buffalo.
Here’s a look at how some of the $650,000 in campaign donations connected to Louis Ciminelli between 2000, the last year for which state reports are available online, and 2016 was spent:
• Cuomo was the biggest recipient, receiving about $128,000 – all of it between June 2009 and May 2014.
Contributions to Cuomo include $96,500 from Louis Ciminelli; $25,000 from one of Ciminelli’s companies; and an additional $6,550 from Ciminelli’s wife, Ann Louise Ciminelli, that includes $2,350 of in-kind contributions.
One of Ciminelli’s $25,000 contributions was made in the weeks before LPCiminelli got the contract to build the SolarCity factory at RiverBend, and another was made several months after the contract was awarded.
State, local contributions
• Ciminelli donated $5,000 to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2014.
• Contributions to past governors paled in comparison. Republican George E. Pataki got $5,000 in 2000 from one of Ciminelli’s companies, while Democrat Eliot L. Spitzer received $6,000 from 2006 to 2008. His successor, Democrat David A. Paterson, was given $12,500 in 2008-09.
• Other top state officials benefiting include State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who received $20,000 since October 2013 from Ciminelli. An additional $1,000 came from Laipple, the division president for LPCiminelli.
• In 2014, Ciminelli gave $10,000 in campaign funds and $2,224 of in-kind contributions to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
• Local state legislators also benefited. Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, received $20,825 between 2007 and 2015 from Ciminelli and his companies. Louis Ciminelli also donated $14,000 to former State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, with $10,000 of that coming during Grisanti’s failed 2014 re-election campaign.
• Former State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, received $3,000 in contributions from Ciminelli and an additional $5,000 of in-kind services from Schuler, the LPCiminelli senior vice president. Libous left office in September 2014 after being accused of lying to the FBI about his efforts to get a job for his son at a politically connected Westchester County law firm. He was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to probation. Libous died from cancer this past May.
At the city level, Mayor Byron W. Brown and City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder are among the few current Buffalo officials who received contributions from Louis Ciminelli.
Brown received $21,500 between 2006 and 2015. Schroeder, since first running for city comptroller in 2011, received $8,500 from Ciminelli and $650 from Laipple during that time. The only current Common Council member getting Ciminelli money was the North District’s Joseph Golombek Jr., who received $250 in 2004.
Other mayors receiving Ciminelli money: Syracuse’s Stephanie A. Miner, $10,561; Rochester’s Lovely Ann Warren, $7,500; New York City’s Bill de Blasio, $5,900; and Niagara Falls’ Paul A. Dyster, $250.
In Erie County, officeholders receiving Ciminelli contributions include: Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, $11,300 from 2007 to 2013; County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr., $1,250 from Ciminelli; and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, a single $1,000 donation in 2015.
County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, who now is running for the State Senate in the 60th District, received a total of $5,500 from Ciminelli between 2011 and 2014.
In Niagara County, Ciminelli gave $27,000 to the county Republican committee between 2007 and 2014. He and his companies also gave $18,000 to then-State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who served from 1995 through 2014.
Reaching national level
In presidential races, Ciminelli gave $1,000 to Ben Carson’s Republican presidential primary campaign last year. He donated $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2003.
At the congressional level, Ciminelli gave $5,000 in 2013 to then-House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
• In New York’s U.S. Senate race in 2000, Ciminelli and his wife donated $4,000 to Republican Rick Lazio, who ran against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
• Ciminelli and his wife also are longtime supporters of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., contributing a total of $14,400 between 2001 and 2013.
• The Ciminellis also contributed $30,000 between November 2013 and October 2014 to the Connecticut Democratic State Committee’s federal account. In Connecticut, contractors are prohibited from donating to statewide campaigns, but can contribute to the federal account. The fund is set up to support Connecticut candidates seeking federal office. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut is currently investigating whether the governor’s 2014 re-election campaign improperly benefited from the money.
LPCiminelli is involved with a long-delayed, half-billion-dollar transportation center planned for Stamford, Conn. The firm was dropped from the project Thursday after Ciminelli was accused in the New York State case.
One of the defendants in the New York case, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., also was involved in the Connecticut project. Galbraith worked with Competitive Power Venture Holdings, an energy company seeking New York State approval to open a power plant in the Hudson Valley. He is accused of paying bribes to a top Cuomo aide.