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Amid state inquiry, critics continue push for Democratic Committee audit

Republican Erie County Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said Thursday that he is not asking for a state audit or investigation into tens of thousands of dollars in previously misreported campaign funds by the local Democratic Party.

Mohr cited the ongoing cooperation and compliance between the State Board of Elections and the Erie County Democratic Committee.

The state board continues to review more than 100 amendments to mishandled committee finance reports dating back to 2012. It has the authority to conduct an audit if it finds that the corrected finance records do not match the local Democratic committee's own bank account balances, Mohr said. So far, however, no evidence has come to light showing money was deliberately hidden, falsified or stolen, according to state and local officials.

"It looks like there is an attempt at compliance here," Mohr said at a regular commissioner's meeting at which the misreported funds were briefly discussed for the first time.

Jeremy Zellner, who has been criticized for serving as both the county's Democratic elections commissioner and as county Democratic Party chairman, had Democratic Committee Treasurer Erich Weyant lay out what have been repeatedly described as clerical mistakes. Those errors included credit card funds and other contributions that were not properly itemized, loans that were not carried over in future reports, wrongly entered information and problems with the party's software system.

To address these issues, Zellner said later, the local party will hire an experienced finance director to oversee contributions and spending, instead of relegating the task to a revolving door of party staffers. The party also will use the state software system to file all its finance reports instead of using its own separate system, which is more prone inputting errors.

"I’m confident that this is the end of this," he said. "We’ve put in place some things to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and we’re moving forward."

James J. Eagan and Rich Horner, Democrats critical of Zellner’s leadership, first brought the matter to light. They called for a complete investigation and outside audit of the Democratic committee's books because of the sheer volume of mistakes — amounting to more than $150,000 in unreported contributions.

Eagan said Thursday that while he respects Mohr's position, the only way to rule out the possibility of misspending and fraud is a thorough audit. That is exactly what he'll ask for in the complaint he plans to file with the state next month. He also pointed out that his attention was first drawn to the Democratic Committee's financial reports when the local party let its worker's compensation insurance lapse for nine months.

"If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you open up your books to an independent auditor?" he said. "How do we know you fixed everything?"

Zellner called the complaints a "political hit job" and has repeatedly pointed out that Eagan and Horner have long been critical of Zellner's leadership and are supporting endorsed Republican candidate Lynne Dixon for county executive over Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz.

"There is nothing to be gained by this, except to embarrass us," Zellner said. "There's no reason why we would have deliberately done this."

Party dissidents demand outside audit of jumbled Democratic books

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