In response to Mayor Lovely Warren’s comments on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI yesterday, County Legislator and Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on her to refund the over $21K her campaign continues to hold onto, in violation of NYS law. During a tense exchange with Dawson, Warren again revealed how little she cares about the issue of campaign finance improprieties, calling the issue “irrelevant,” and saying pointedly, “I’m not going to respond to people I don’t have to.”
Sheppard reacted with incredulity. “It seems like anytime an opponent or critic raises a real issue that she doesn’t want to discuss, the mayor cries politics,” said Sheppard. “I find that very disingenuous. How the mayor handles herself and how she confronts challenges is an important part of her record. She may dismiss these issues as irrelevant, but I promise you that voters care a great deal about whether their elected leadership is following the law.”
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, even reaccepting over-the-limit contributions from entities it previously refunded.
In addition to the issue of over-the-limit to her Friends of Lovely Warren Committee, if contribution levels essentially don't exist - because she continues to raise and spend whatever she wants from these same people in her PAC - then special interests will have undue influence in City Hall. Lovely Warren says this whole discussion is irrelevant and not important. She is wrong. It goes to the heart of what the public wants in their government and their elected officials: transparency and fairness. They want a government and elected officials they can trust. They want to know that everyone plays by the same rules. If special interests can get unlimited access by writing a blank check, the public's faith in governmental decision-making suffers.
The appended document outlining the chronology of Warren’s campaign finance abuses going back to 2013 demonstrates a pattern of irregularities. Though she claims to no longer have a relationship with Albany lobbyist Scott Gaddy, it was just a few short years ago that his Super PAC, Rochester Rising, funneled more than $40K into the mayor’s account, paving the way for her upset victory in 2013. Clearly she did not learn her lesson, since a troubling pattern of mishandling funds continues again this campaign cycle.
“It isn’t an isolated mistake that I’m worried about,” said Sheppard. “We can all make mistakes. In fact, as part of our own reporting activities, we found a $1K overpayment by a donor, who was notified and reimbursed within 24 hours and the change reported to the NYS Board of Elections. The real issue is, how do you deal with any issues as they arise? Warren’s record is marked by a clear and ongoing pattern of mishandled and ill-gotten campaign funds. When confronted with evidence by multiple media sources, her response was to be largely dismissive, saying it was “irrelevant,” – a non-issue. Well if it’s inadvertent and no big deal, refund all of the extra money and make sure the problem doesn’t happen again. Instead, here we are weeks later – still talking about it because the Mayor is defensive and not forthcoming. Frankly, her failure to fully explain what happened and why is an insult to voters.”
“Let’s not get into something we don’t need to get into,” Warren lamented to Evan Dawson. But Rochester voters would very much like to “get into” the details of Warren’s continued misuse of campaign funds. “Lovely Warren seems to think it is unfair to be held accountable for her actions,” said Sheppard. “I think it’s unfair to voters that she is so cavalier about her duty to them as a public servant. Transparency means answering questions – even the ones you don’t like. Leadership means accepting responsibility – not shifting blame onto volunteers.”
Just because you don’t like the topic, doesn’t mean you get to change the subject. Lovely Warren has still raised too much money. She still refuses to give it back – or even fully account for what happened. It’s time to step up, be accountable, be transparent and return the contributions that violate the law and stop using her PAC as a personal piggy bank. The public deserves no less.