Rochester mayoral candidate James Sheppard today called on Mayor Warren to completely address her campaign’s illegal fundraising activities before the New York State Board of Elections and the New York State Attorney General’s office are forced to step in.
“Last week, Lovely Warren returned the $21,000 in funds to several donors her campaign accepted that were above the legal limit,” said Sheppard. “While it is good that media stories and negative public opinion of these illegal overages finally forced her to do the right thing, the issue is hardly “off the table” as the mayor asserts.”
Still outstanding is the basis of the formal complaint that Sheppard filed back in April with the New York State Board of Elections and which he forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office last week. Warren clearly co-mingled funds from her campaign committee, The Friends of Lovely Warren (Campaign fund) with funds from the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC (Warren PAC) she set up for non-election purposes. That is illegal and a flagrant abuse of state law, which has been condemned publicly by the nonpartisan Directors of both Common Cause NY and NYPIRG.
In 2016, all the proceeds of the Mayor’s Ball that support her re-election bid, as she clearly stated in writing on her website, went directly into the Warren PAC. By law, any contribution from the Warren PAC to her campaign fund could not exceed $8557. Yet, the Warren PAC funded the entire cost of the Ball, far exceeding the legal limit. Indeed, the PAC wrote a check to the Convention Center alone for $53,278.
“As we have seen from this mayor in the past, she believes she is above the law, blames others, and only takes action when forced to by public pressure,” said Sheppard. “Even when caught in the act, she plays the victim and cries politics. It’s not politics, it is New York State law, and as a lawyer who spent much of her career working in Albany, she cannot claim ignorance of it.”
Lovely Warren’s record in this area is not one of a few innocent mistakes. Indeed, it represents a pattern that has continued for years.
- 2013 - Her first mayoral run received $40,000 from a mystery PAC headed up by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy and the now deceased Assemblyman Bill Nojay. The shadow company set up by Nojay that funneled the money to the PAC is still under investigation.
- 2014 & 2015 & 2017 – The Mayor’s Ball served as the main fundraiser for the Mayor’s campaign fund. The Friends of Lovely Warren funded and received the revenue from it.
- February, 2016 – The Mayor’s Ball, again as promoted by the Mayor’s own words on the Ball Website, served as a fundraiser for the Mayor’s reelection. But this time, Warren chose to fund the Ball through her PAC and the PAC received and kept the revenue—a clear violation of state law.
- July 2016 - The Mayor’s campaign finance filings showed her PAC funded invoices from the convention center, printer, mailings and various vendor costs for the 2016 Mayor’s Ball well in excess to the legal limit. $53,278 was paid to the Convention Center alone.
- January 2017 – The Mayor’s filing shows donors contributed $19,329 over the legal limit.
- April 2017 – James Sheppard files a complaint asking for a formal investigation with the NYS Board of Elections citing the illegal co-mingling of funds, with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day-to-day activities for both the campaign and Warren PAC. Both organizations function as Committees authorized by the same candidate operating in the same election cycle.
- May 2017 - The NYS BOE acknowledges the Sheppard complaint.
- July 2017 - Friends of Lovely Warren refunds a total of $10,879 of contributions accepted over the legal limit, the day before the Gotham Gazette’s article criticizing the campaign’s fundraising practices was published.
- July 2017 – Warren filings show a $30,000 fund transfer from the Warren PAC to the campaign fund. Cited as a “PayPal mistake.” Warren blames her volunteers. Later it’s found that the $30,000 was actually $25,000 and Warren returned the $5,000 to the PAC. Still unexplained as how the transfer, more than three-times the limit, is legal. Also unanswered is how PayPal could have been responsible for these errors.
- July 2017 – The Sheppard campaign finds yet another set of over-the-limit donor payments to Friends of Lovely Warren in the amount of $21,000. Incredibly, some of the overpayments came from the very donors who just had donations returned to them because they were over the limit.
- July 2017 – By the July filing, the number of donors whose contributions exceeded the $8557
limit to Friends of Lovely Warren AND Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC or to her PAC alone had risen from 15 in January to 23. Those donors gave a combined total of $131,159 if jointly applied to the legal limit in funding Warren’s re-election bid. (Except for one $8557 contribution from her PAC to her Friends of Lovely Warren account, not one more cent can be lawfully spent on any Warren Campaign related expenses, contrary to what has been occurring.)
- July 24, 2017 – The Sheppard campaign cites the overpayments and reissues call to NYS BOE and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to investigate Warren’s illegal campaign fundraising.
- July 28, 2017 – Following the calls from the Sheppard campaign to return illegal contributions, which she dismisses as just “politics”, and the subsequent media stories about it, Warren refunds $21,000 in payments and says “I’m taking this issue off the table.”
“Lovely Warren cannot return a few over limit payments and declare the issue is over, because it is not,” said Sheppard. ”She cannot declare that she is not under investigation – as only the NYS BOE and Attorney General’s Office would know that. And she should not cavalierly dismiss the very serious concern that she has permitted two separate committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to support her re-election bid, in direct violation of state law. This concern has been expressed not just by me but by the heads of two of the most highly regarded good government organizations in NYS, Common Cause and NYPIRG. It is clear from even a cursory review of her campaign disclosure reports that the value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC far exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law.”
This mayor is playing a shell game with her campaign funds and believes she can defy the law by dismissing any scrutiny as ‘politics.’ I will continue to speak out about this ongoing abuse because I feel strongly that it undermines trust and confidence in our electoral system.”
The Sheppard campaign is once again urging the NYS Board of Elections and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to act with all speed and seriousness in investigating the financial activities of these two interconnected entities supporting Mayor Lovely Warren’s re-election campaign. Sheppard reiterated his belief: “I fear that inaction in this egregious case would set a dangerous precedent for future candidates, since it means that campaigns would never again be bound by contribution limits.”