Have you met Mr. Molinaro? Really met him?
The following excerpts are from a Times Union July 1, 2018 article which was not replicated by our Poughkeepsie Journal. It is food for thought.The article was written by Chris Bragg.
In May, Molinaro proposed the bill banning state contractors from giving campaign contributions — an initiative that would be enormously difficult to push through the state Legislature.
In Molinaro’s current job, passing such a law would not be so difficult: In Dutchess County, Republicans control the county legislature and Molinaro has significant sway over its agenda. Yet Molinaro and fellow Republicans opposed such a bill — modeled after an anti-pay-to-play measure passed by Republicans in Orange County — when it was introduced by county Democrats last year.
Molinaro has argued in the past that the law would create an unfair playing field for Dutchess County incumbents, who would be constrained by the restrictions of the law while their electoral challengers would not be. And Molinaro said that while neighboring counties have passed pay-to-play laws, he trusts the opinion of Dutchess County counsel, who says such programs would not pass legal muster — unless implemented on a statewide basis.
Molinaro also opposes publicly funded elections, arguing that too many politicians have used their campaign funds as personal piggy banks. He has called the idea “frightening.”….
But Molinaro — who easily won his county executive races in 2011 and 2015 — has himself spent an unusual amount of his campaign funds on items not directly related to campaigning: Since 2011, he has spent nearly $62,000 on car payments, meals, trips and entertainment.
Nearly $27,000 in car and gas payments have included more than $15,000 paid to vehicle financing company Ally for a lease. The campaign paid the $594 per month beginning in 2012, despite the fact that Molinaro is also provided a taxpayer-funded vehicle by Dutchess County.
Candidates are allowed to use campaign funds for their personal vehicles as long as the use is related to their public office. The lease payments stopped in April 2015 and were entirely legal, Molinaro’s campaign said.
Molinaro has spent $12,300 on travel and entertainment expenses, including a trip to California, where campaign expenses included tabs at the “Moonstone beach bar,” and a trip to Florida, where the campaign paid for his stay at the Hilton Clearwater Beach.
Molinaro said the trip to California in 2014 was related to tourism promotion efforts for Dutchess County, and that he preferred to have the campaign pay for it instead of taxpayers. The Clearwater Beach trip, in 2012, was to meet with campaign donors who were Dutchess County residents with homes in Florida; Molinaro’s campaign refused to identify them.
Molinaro has also spent nearly $23,000 in campaign funds on 252 meal-related expenditures, which he acknowledged was a “relatively high” amount. Molinaro has often met for dinners with constituents and community groups, sometimes four times a week, which explains the high amount….
Molinaro’s biggest single campaign contribution of $11,350 came in November 2012 from a firm based in Westchester County, BSG Engineering. It was by far the firm’s largest gift in a New York election. About five months before the donation, BSG began a competitively bid Dutchess County contract worth $185,000 for “waterfront improvement” engineering services.
Following a March 2013 indictment in New Jersey, eight former executives, shareholders and managers of BSG would go on to plead guilty to a $1 million scheme to evade that state’s pay-to-play law. Molinaro said he was unfamiliar with the contract or the company.
In several instances, contracts for $20,000 or less have been awarded by Molinaro’s administration to firms closely tied to his own campaign operation.
The second-largest campaign donation to Molinaro was $8,500 in November 2012 from a Manhattan limited liability company, Compass Company Consultants, which previously had hardly ever donated in New York elections. About six weeks beforehand, records show, Compass had signed a $20,000 contract with Dutchess County to perform an audit of its self-insured workers compensation program.
The Compass donation was much larger than actually intended: The check was simply meant to purchase a much cheaper ticket for the annual “Molinaro Cup” golf fundraiser. The campaign told Compass officials that the contribution slightly exceeded the donation limit and gave back $7,000 of the $8,500.
Compass, which focuses on insurance regulation consulting, is part of a major lobbying firm, Manhattan-based Park Strategies.
Park shares an address with two campaign-consulting firms that have been paid about $61,000 by Molinaro’s county executive campaign account, Verus Partners and Capitol Public Strategies.
Park officials say the firm’s Peter Molinaro — no relation to the candidate — had begun discussions with Dutchess County officials about the work awarded to Compass before Park Strategies ever acquired Capitol Public Strategies in 2012.
Records show Park Strategies has itself won a $20,000 contract in 2013 from Molinaro’s county government for communications work during the design phase of the building of a new county jail.
Park Strategies, founded in 1999 by former Republican U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, has lobbied Molinaro on behalf of its clients, who have also donated to Molinaro. Government-reform groups have long criticized the practice of campaign firms lobbying the people they help elect.
Park’s clients include Triad Group, a Troy-based firm that focuses on providing workers’ compensation services. In early 2013, Park Strategies managing director William McGahay reported lobbying Molinaro’s administration on behalf of Triad.
Molinaro said that McGahay, an owner of the Park-affiliated campaign firms that have worked for Molinaro, had met with him and other county officials. He said there was no issue with being lobbied by a campaign consultant as long as it was disclosed and the lawful bidding process was followed.
Triad bid in 2012 for work with Molinaro’s administration and was not selected, the campaign said, with the bid instead going to insurance company Marshall & Sterling, itself a major Molinaro campaign donor. In March 2017, Triad Group did win a competitive bid from Dutchess County for up to $721,000 as a third-party administrator for the county’s self-insured workers program — the type of work Park Strategies had been seeking for the company.
Triad or its executives have given at least $12,375 in campaign donations to Molinaro, and McGahay has also given $900.
Park Strategies officials are not on Molinaro’s paid staff for the governor’s race,
Molinaro’s county executive campaigns have paid another well-known Republican political firm, the Casale Group, more than $61,000. The firm’s Lynn Krogh is managing Molinaro’s gubernatorial campaign.
In February 2017, records show Dutchess County also signed a $15,000 deal with Casale Group to produce a minute-long video for Molinaro’s “Think Differently” campaign, which encourages people to change their attitudes towards people with special needs.
Casale Group has also been paid about $4,000 more in taxpayer money in 2017 to do “robocalls” regarding public hearings on a county tax savings plan.
The Dutchess County executive’s office declined to provide the Times Union with copies of any emails between Molinaro administration officials and his campaign consultants, saying that the newspaper would have to provide the private email addresses for each consultant.
Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate for governor who is seeking to steal votes from the Republican, recently produced an analysis showing that Molinaro has received about $400,000 in campaign contributions from firms, their officials or relatives whose businesses have gotten $109 million in payments from Dutchess County. Those contributions represent about 28 percent of the total that Molinaro has raised.
To Joel Tyner — an outspoken Dutchess County Democratic legislator who for decades has raised suspicions about Republican pay-to-play — one recurring point of interest has been the amount of campaign money pouring in from outside the area. Those donors would seem to have little interest in Dutchess County’s governance — except for forwarding their own business interests, he believes.
Molinaro’s biggest donor appears to be companies and people connected to a Putnam County-based affordable housing developer, Kearney Realty and Development, a group tied to about $50,000 in donations to Molinaro.
Dutchess County has made three different payments of $295,000 each — part of the of the federal HOME program — to Kearney projects. Those dollars go through the county’s Community Development Council, which makes recommendations to Molinaro. He does not recall ever going against the Council’s advice.
Kearney, which has donated even more heavily to Cuomo, did not return a request for comment.
Besides the statewide pay-to-play ban, another reform item Molinaro has made a centerpiece of his campaign is term limits, which he insists are badly needed across state government. He has pledged to serve only two terms as governor, and in a recent New York Post op-ed said he would insist on putting term limits in the state budget unless lawmakers agree to a standalone up-or-down vote on the matter.
Molinaro has again had less urgency in taking up the matter in Dutchess County: A Republican Dutchess legislator introduced a bill last year imposing a 12-year limit for both the county executive and legislators, which Molinaro and other Republicans have not supported.
Molinaro says he does favor a three-term limit, but wants it to be part of a broader reform of the county charter that is ongoing. He hopes to act on reforms this year.
Molinaro is also remaining mum on whether he would run for a third term as Dutchess executive in 2019 if he loses the governor’s race, even as he’s pledged to serve only two terms if he becomes governor.
“We’ll see how I feel after I win the election in November,” Molinaro said.
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Have you met Mr. Molinaro? Really met him?