Friday, August 7, 2009

Pigeon launches two new political funds for Espada

State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., D-Bronx, owes for alleged campaign violations.
file photo

Donations flowing into them will go to base in Buffalo


Political mastermind G. Steven Pigeon, unfazed by accusations that he routinely flouts campaign finance laws, has set up two new political funds to serve his boss in the Bronx.

The special-interest money and assorted donations flowing into both new funds will be stacked and deposited in Buffalo, Pigeon’s base, by Pigeon’s handpicked treasurer or treasurers.

“You will see us do a lot of things in Buffalo because I live in Buffalo,” said Pigeon, a former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee who eats and breathes politics.

One fund will clearly support his boss, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada of the Bronx, a Democrat who also is no slouch when it comes to flouting finance laws.

Paperwork for the second fund says it’s to support Espada, too.

But Pigeon — Espada’s $150,000- a-year counsel — says it will really support several candidates as it works in tandem with Responsible New York, the controversial fund Pigeon created with billionaire B. Thomas Golisano to hound out entrenched incumbents.

Espada is the senator whose defection from the Senate’s Democratic caucus — in a coup egged on by Pigeon and Golisano — mired the Senate in a six-week deadlock. The stalemate ended July 8 when Espada returned to the Democratic fold in exchange for the title of majority leader.

Pigeon described the new “Upstate Leadership Committee” as a fund organized by Golisano but inspired and funded by local business leaders to support upstate candidates, just like Golisano funds Responsible New York to support certain State Legislature hopefuls upstate and downstate.

“This is basically a bunch of business leaders who have talked to Tom about how they could help with what he has been doing,” Pigeon said. “So our thought was to set up a separate vehicle.”

He said Anthony J. Baynes will be chairman of Upstate Leadership.

Baynes, a registered Conservative, owns a freight-forwarding company in Clarence and was chairman of Erie County’s state-appointed control board at the request of former Gov. George E. Pataki.

Baynes was with Pigeon and Golisano in cheering on Espada during the Senate coup and tried to cement it by urging Sen. William Stachowski, D-Lake View, to join Espada by abandoning the Democrats. Stachowski didn’t budge.

Meanwhile, Pigeon has added the new “Majority Leader’s Victory Fund” to Espada’s roster of campaign funds. Pigeon said it will host a fundraiser next week in a New York City hotel.

Espada, who has been described as mercurial and fickle, already owes thousands of dollars in fines for campaign finance violations.

“The Board of Elections shouldn’t allow the committee to be formed until he is paid up,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who has watched Albany operate for years.

But it’s not Espada creating the committees. It’s Pigeon, through an intermediary.

And that, too, is a problem, Horner said.

He said he finds it troubling that a legislative staff member would be calling the shots on a newly created political committee.

“Staffers should be dealing with legislators and their policy needs,” he said. “They should not be mixing that with their political needs. I’m not about to say he’s the only one doing it. I still think it’s a bad practice.”

One of the best ways to fend off political challenges, Horner said, is to wield a huge campaign war chest — one factor that probably motivated Espada to set up another committee to raise money, just as other legislative leaders do.

Having the battle-tested Pigeon as a field general — at almost $3,000 a week — apparently helps insulate an incumbent, too.

Both Pigeon and Golisano continue to protect Espada’s back. Golisano was in the audience beaming and clapping last week when a Bronx group named Espada “Senator of the Year,” according to the Daily News of New York.

Espada sets a poor example when it comes to campaign accountability. He owes the New York City Campaign Finance Board $61,750 in fines for violating fundraising rules during his 2001 run for Bronx borough president. He also owes the state Board of Elections $10,300 for violations over the years.

Similarly, Pigeon sets a poor example, says the Erie County Board of Elections. It concluded that two political funds he controls — People for Accountable Government and Citizens for Fiscal Integrity — routinely flouted the laws that let the public monitor the flow of campaign money.

As for Responsible New York, of which Pigeon is cochairman, candidates in Erie County complained to the state Board of Elections that the independent fund colluded with its favored state legislative candidates in last year’s elections, violating state law. The state board has asked the Albany County district attorney to investigate.

None of the above dissuades Pigeon. He says any coordination between him and Golisano and their candidates occurred before Responsible New York was formed. As for Erie County’s Republican and Democratic elections commissioners, they are waging a “selective persecution” that will not stick, he says.

The new funds — the Upstate Leadership Committee and the Majority Leader’s Victory Fund— are based in a Delaware Avenue address and have as their treasurer John J. Gangemi, a 30-year-old Buffalo resident who has no discernible political footprints in Erie County but says he’s “just helping” Pigeon by serving as treasurer.

Gangemi, however, might be the temporary treasurer, just like when Pigeon for a time named his niece treasurer for Citizens for Fiscal Integrity and then replaced her. Pigeon acknowledged Thursday he selected a treasurer in the hopes of forming the committees more swiftly and will review the choice later.

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