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DA probes $5,000 donation to Kearns that Rivera says he never OK'd

On the rare occasions he dips into his campaign account for political donations, Niagara Council Member David Rivera will issue checks for $25 or $50 to help a fellow Democrat.

So when he discovered this week his campaign had dropped a whopping $5,000 on Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns – a Democrat running as a Republican – he was flabbergasted at not only the amount, but that it was not authorized by him.

But Rivera’s longtime campaign treasurer – Edwin Martinez – tells a different story. He maintains Rivera all along approved the contribution that proves significant by Council standards.

“He authorized it,” Martinez said Thursday.

He also said Rivera is now shifting blame after feeling the wrath of Democratic Headquarters and its antipathy toward Kearns.

“The party chairman is upset, so David is trying to backtrack on this,” Martinez said. “But there can be no backtracking now.”

Now the mystery donation that has been returned by Kearns is morphing into a campaign issue as well as a matter before the district attorney. Angela Marinucci, the Democratic candidate for clerk opposing Kearns, said Thursday that the person occupying the office she seeks should be one of “unimpeachable integrity.”

“We encourage Mr. Kearns to cooperate fully with any investigation to ensure that public trust is upheld,” she said. “We further encourage Mr. Kearns to update his financial filing to reflect the returned donation so that he is in compliance with campaign finance laws.

“Mickey Kearns owes the public a full accounting of what he knows about the circumstances surrounding the unauthorized donation,” she added.

Rivera said Thursday that since he first ran for Common Council in 2005, he never made such a substantial donation to anyone. Indeed, his campaign has neither raised nor spent money since he last filed an active finance report with the state Board of Elections in early 2015, and listed only about $17,000 on hand.

But when the latest reports were filed earlier this week, the Council member said he was surprised to learn that while his own campaign listed no activity, the $5,000 from his account appeared on the Kearns record.

“I’ve never given $5,000 to anybody, not even the governor,” he said. “It’s shocking to me. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Rivera noted that Kearns “did the ethical thing” and returned the money after it was brought to his attention. Kearns, in a statement Thursday, said the donation was immediately returned, in full, even though there was no obligation for him to do so.

“I consider Councilman Rivera a long-time friend from my time on the Buffalo Common Council," said Kearns in a statement.

"It is unfortunate and concerning that staff members from County Executive Poloncarz’s office and the Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, are using the Councilman and his office to generate controversy where there is none. At this point I find it alarming that donations and press releases are being sent from Councilman Rivera’s office without the councilman’s authorization,” Kearns added in the statement.

Meanwhile, Rivera wants to know why Martinez made such a hefty – and unauthorized – donation.

Martinez has been a friend and trusted treasurer through his Council career, Rivera said, adding he has been unable to reach him for an explanation. He also said he signs all checks stemming from his campaign account, while Martinez signed the $5,000 check to Kearns. Martinez is listed on the website of Panorama Hispano, a neighborhood newspaper, as founder and publisher emeritus.

Rivera said he immediately opened a new account, appointed a new campaign treasurer, and reported the matter to Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr.

“The Rivera campaign reported it to our office and we will look into the matter,” Flynn said Thursday.

Rivera said his campaign is now assembling all documentation requested by the district attorney.

“I’ve been made whole by Mickey,” he said, “but this is troubling to me.”

News Staff Reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report.

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