Rochester, NY – Citing continued and flagrant violations of State election law brought to light by last week’s campaign finance filings, Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on the New York State Board of Elections to step up its investigation into the questionable campaign filings of Mayor Lovely Warren. Such violations could result in criminal charges.
“Despite getting caught and forced to return money to donors for exceeding the limit, she’s doing it again,” said Sheppard. “As of now, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted over-the-limit contributions from 11 donors totaling $21,472.”
“People have a right to expect that their Mayor operates with honesty and integrity,” continued Sheppard. “These filings are another example of Mayor Warren’s pattern of unethical behavior. And in this case, it appears that her actions may have veered off the path of the unethical into the illegal.”
While all but $3,572 in over-the-limit contributions from before the July 2017 filing were refunded, Friends of Lovely Warren has since accepted new over-the-limit contributions, and more bizarrely, it has “reaccepted” over-the-limit contributions from entities it previous refunded, including the RIJF LLC and Rochester Malls LLC, both entities are $3.400 over the legal limit.
While the continued illegal practice of accepting cash above the legal-limits is damning enough, it isn’t the the most egregious unethical and illegal behavior the mayor had demonstrated.
The central issue of Mayor Warren’s campaign violations was blown open in last week’s filings. In New York State, candidates are allowed to have one campaign finance committee which is governed by donation limits, expense requirements, and reporting disclosures. Mayor Warren has two. Double the money raised, double the money spent. This is the behavior that Susan Lerner, head of the government watchdog group Common Cause NY, called “very problematic.”
The legitimate campaign committee, Friends of Lovely Warren, received a $30,000 transfer from the questionable account, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. The reason: a “PayPal error” that comingled funds raised. The very existence of a joint PayPal account is more than enough evidence that these two accounts are being used interchangeably.
When called out on this transfer, Mayor Warren did what we’ve come to expect: Blame someone else. Her “volunteer committee,” headed by Committee Treasurer Rosalind Brooks (who daylights as the City of Rochester’s Deputy Director of Finance) was held responsible for the $30,000 mistake.
“I don’t care who’s name is on the paperwork,” Sheppard said. “It’s your campaign and you own it. Mistake or otherwise, a leader steps up, takes responsibility and fixes the problem.”
Lovely Warren clearly used the PAC money to benefit her campaign, even stating that the PAC funded Mayor’s Ball was to help her re-election effort. In fact, based on the detail included in the July 2017 report, if the numbers of donors who exceeded the $8,577 contributions either to both Friends of Lovely Warren and Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC, or to the PAC exclusively, these 23 donors gave a combined $131,159 above the $8,557 limit for the Rochester Mayor’s race.
Sheppard said: “Given this new information of continued illegal over-the-limit payments, the very integrity of our election laws are at stake. We need someone to enforce the law. Lovely Warren is an attorney who spent her career in Albany. How is it possible for her not to know the law? That leaves us with a disturbing conclusion.”
Included in the updated letter delivered to the Board of Elections today was an additional complaint filed with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman, as the State’s chief legal counsel, has investigated similar violations of campaign finance regulations, including the current prosecutions of Buffalo campaign operative Steve Pigeon and former area State Senator George Maziarz.
“It is critical that we have a full, open and swift investigation,” Sheppard said. “Rochester used to be the city known for its ethics and integrity. Now it’s looking more like Albany and Washington, DC.”