State Independence Party Served As A Conduit For Moneys To Local City Council Campaign

The Times Union published an online story on January 2, 2020 regarding the role of the New York State Independence Party in last November’s Saratoga Springs election. It reported that a number of local business people made significant contributions to the New York State Independence Party which then used this money to do mailings on behalf of candidates in Saratoga Springs.

The text in the lower left corner reads: “Paid for by the NYS Committee of the Independence Party of New York – Not printed at tax payers (sic) expense”

Below is a list from the New York State Board of Elections of the contributors to something called “The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account.” All these donors are from the greater Saratoga Springs area.

$1,000.00 –D.A. Collins Construction: Major construction firm that sold land where hospital hopes to build its medical office building.

$500.00 -Phinney Design Group: Architectural and Design Firm. Among its many clients are New York Racing Association and Saratoga National Golf Course.

$150.00 –George “Skip” Carlson: Vice President for External Affairs with Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Mr. Carlson served for many years on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. [JK: As far as I can tell, he never voted against an application for a variance]

$500.00 –Elizabeth Jameson: Downtown merchant. Owner of Frivolous Boutique.

$1,000.00 –Matthew Jones: Attorney. Represents Saratoga Hospital

$5,000 -Thomas Newkirk: Principal owner of Saratoga National Golf Course among other investments in the area.

$250.00 –Frank Parillo: Saratoga Prime Properties LLC. Among his extensive holdings are the old Saratogian Building on Lake Avenue and the 38 High Rock Avenue.

$500.00 –Michael Toohey: Attorney – Go-to developer attorney. Vice Chairperson of Saratoga Hospital Board of Trustees.

Saratoga CoWorks: Downtown business that offers “shared space” office services.

$1,000.00 -Charles Wait: Chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust

$250.00 –SCH PAC, Albany, NY (Could not find any info on who this is.)

Total: $10,650.00

Expenditures

This is from the New York State Board of Elections. It lists the expenditures made by the New York State Independence Party Campaign Account.

$600.00 – BAKER PUBLIC RELATIONS
350 NORTHERN BLVD
ALBANY, NY 12204

$750.00 – CAMPAIGN UNLIMITED
47 FLINTLOCK DRIVE
SHIRLEY, NY 11967

$2,500.00 – CAPITAL ADVOCATES LLC
3 AURORA AVENUE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866

$2,971.06 -DIGITAL PRESS
5 SAND CREEK ROAD
ALBANY, NY 12205

$1,000.00 NYS INDEPENDENCE PARTY HOUSEKEEPING ACCOUNT
47 FLINTLOCK DRIVE
SHIRLEY, NY 11967

Total $7,821.06

As an observant reader may notice, Campaign Unlimited shares the same address as the NYS Independence Party Housekeeping Account. This address is a private residence. So it appears that the Independence Party leadership took a fee of $1,000.00 for handling the money. It also seems like there may have been a little self dealing going on here as whatever Campaign Unlimited might be, they took $750.00 for their services.

Who is Capital Advocates LLC?

Capital Advocates LLC is a consulting firm located in Saratoga Springs. William Teator is its principal and founder. It appears that he began his career in 1994 as the press secretary for Gerald Solomon. Mr. Solomon was the Republican Congressman representing Saratoga Springs for many years. From 1999 to 2002 Mr. Teator was the government affairs consultant for the Solomon Group LLC, a lobbying firm. In 2003 he established Capital Advocates and became affiliated with the Livingston Group LLC that had acquired the Solomon Group. The Livingston Group is a lobbying organization established by Robert “Bob” Livingston who had been the Republican Congressman from Louisiana. According to this recent article in Politico, Congressman Livingston had been in line to replace Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House when his rather lurid past involving extra-marital affairs, exposed by Hustler magazine, led to his resignation. As part of his resignation he called for Bill Clinton to join him. Clinton was on the verge of his impeachment in the House. As the readers of this blog who are old enough may recall, President Clinton declined Bob’s offer.

The Livingston Group now finds itself entangled in the Trump impeachment. Livingston represents a number of Ukrainian Clients. Livingston was referenced by Catherine Croft, former National Security Council Director responsible for Ukraine, in her testimony in the impeachment hearings. She testified that he had contacted her to urge her assistance in getting rid of the then ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She testified, “He (Livingston) characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros…” She said she was unclear on whose behalf Livingston had contacted her and Politico’s attempt to reach Livingston on this issue failed.

Allocation Report

Among the reports submitted to the NYS Board of Elections by the New York State Independence Party Campaign Account was a Schedule R. According to the Board of Elections the purpose of this report is:

Schedule R is used by Party committees, constituted committees and authorized multi-candidate committees to allocate campaign expenses among the candidates they support according to the relative benefit each candidate received from the expenditures. (These amounts are cumulative per candidate for the campaign cycle.)

The purpose of this report appears to be to identify on whose behalf the moneys raised were spent. In their October filing they identified Michele Madigan as the beneficiary, and the amount spent on her behalf as $6,076.06.

While Michele Madigan enjoyed a high profile in the mailings that I remember receiving, the mailings featured all the candidates (see sample above). In fact, one of the mailings primarily featured Skip Scirocco. This report appears to reflect a cavalier attitude regarding the committee’s responsibilities to accurately document their activities.

The State Independence Party Fails To File Final Report

The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account was required to submit a final report of its contributions and expenditures in a “Post General Report” within twenty-seven days following the election. This is an important report because there is usually a great deal of activity right before the actual election which this report is supposed to address. As the election was on November 5, the report was due by December 2. It is unfortunately not unusual for these reports to be late. There is no penalty for being late and the Board lacks any authority to enforce compliance. [JK: Hard to restrain myself from some snarky comment about this]

It Is What It Is

The reality is that the practices laid out in the Times Union article are not unusual nor unique to the Independence Party. There is nothing especially sinister or particularly creative about supporting candidates’ campaigns through donations to the parties that have endorsed them. It is how candidates regularly get around the limits of what they can receive directly, and all parties operate in this manner.

The Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision pretty much destroyed the weak remnants of limits on campaign financing. If you are not familiar with the decision here is a link to the Wikipedia explanation.

My Conversation With Eddy Miller, Chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party

Full disclosure: I consider Eddy Miller, the chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party, to be a friend.

I spoke with Eddy about the The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account. Eddy reminded me that during the recent campaign period he had undergone open heart surgery and was not involved with those events. He made clear to me, however, that he had strongly advocated to the state leadership of the Independence Party to help the candidates in the Saratoga Springs election that his party had endorsed. He also noted that the local Saratoga County Independence Party Committee that he chairs had scrupulously followed all the reporting requirements regarding both the contributions they received and the expenditures that they made.

Deirdre O’Dwyer-Ladd appointed Deputy Commissioner of Finance for the City of Saratoga Springs

[JK: I received this press release from the city Department of Finance]


Saratoga Springs, NY — Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan, is pleased to announce the appointment of Deirdre O’Dwyer-Ladd as the Deputy Commissioner of Finance effective January 1, 2020.  Deirdre’s academic background touts a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Vermont and an MBA from the University of Colorado.

Her 25-year career has spanned a variety of industries including banking, corporate retail, academia, sales, and advertising.  For years, Deirdre has also worked with non-profit organizations to help their strategic planning, marketing and mission alignment. Yet, many of you know Deirdre as an active community volunteer, mother of three, with a strong passion for our City.

Since moving to Saratoga Springs with her husband, Michael in 1998, Deirdre has sat on numerous volunteer boards, city and school committees, and grassroots organizations, earning respect amongst her colleagues and peers.  Deirdre is also mom to sons Jack, Declan, and Patrick.

In 2007, Deirdre was recognized by the Mayor of Saratoga Springs for her local leadership and fundraising initiatives.  In 2011, she was elected to the Saratoga Democratic Committee and, in 2015, she was honored by the Prevention Council of Saratoga County for her years of dedicated service and commitment. 

“Positive economic development often stems from fiscally sound, strategic and collaborative, community development stated Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, I am confident that Deirdre’s proven thought-leadership will be a true asset to our city and will help promote the Finance Department’s many transformational projects”.

“Politics runs in Deirdre’s family and seems to be in her heart and soul” stated Madigan.  Deputy O’Dwyer-Ladd is the granddaughter of Paul O’Dwyer who was civil liberties lawyer and heavily involved in NYC politics for much of his life serving as New York City Council President and was the NYC representative to the United Nations.  His brother was Mayor of NYC, William O’Dwyer, and Paul’s youngest son (Deputy O’Dwyer-Ladd’s uncle) Brian O’Dwyer also a civil liberties lawyer in NYC was appointed the Commissioner of the United States National Commission of UNESCO by Unites States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Commissioner Madigan further stated “Deputy O’Dwyer-Ladd will work hard for the City of Saratoga Springs and further propel its prosperous future”  

Hospital Rezoning: The Strange World Of SEQR And The Inevitable Litigation That Will Follow

Before the City Council could act at its December 23 meeting on the proposed rezoning called for by the Comprehensive Plan (which included the controversial Hospital parcel) the Council had to complete the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. The process involves answering a series of questions that are meant to determine whether or not a proposal will require a more extensive environmental study before approval.

The SEQR process is really designed to address actual building proposals. The requirement that zoning changes had to go through the SEQR process created the classic situation of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

The SEQR form is structured as a series of questions with boxes to check for the answers yes or no. Here is an example (the last question on the form):

† A. This project [JK: Emphasis added] will result in no significant adverse impacts on the environment, and, therefore, an environmental impact statement need not be prepared. Accordingly, this negative declaration is issued.

Part III Item A

Both Commissioners Peter Martin (who is an attorney) and John Franck commented on the repeated use of the word “project” in the questions on the form. There is no specific “project” under consideration by the Council. City Attorney, Vince DeLeonardis, explained to the Council that for purposes of dealing with the zoning changes before them, the word “project” should be understood to mean the zoning changes on the map they were to vote on.

Poorly crafted legislation results in situations like this.

After considering each SEQR question separately the Council unanimously agreed that the zoning changes called for by the Comprehensive Plan would have no negative environmental impact ( a double negative known as “neg dec”) .

A confused public might rightly ask, how is this possible since the rezoning will allow the Hospital’s project to move forward. On its face it seems axiomatic that a project of this magnitude would seem to inevitably impact the environment.

The answer is that the Council was not considering an actual project that would involve architectural plans, and specifics about lighting, drainage, etc. Zoning simply determines what kinds of uses will be allowed on particular parcels of land and this was the only issue under consideration at the Council meeting. The specifics of what any project proposed for that parcel may actually look like are unknown so any discussion of details of what might be constructed would be entirely speculative.

In stating his opposition to the zoning changes before the Council John Franck claimed the Hospital had a “plan” calling for constructing a building larger than the White House on the parcels under consideration for a zoning change.

It is important to understand, however, that while the proposed zoning change that was before the Council allowed for a medical office building, it did not speak to the issue of what kind of building will actually be built.

Theoretically the building could be some small office that would have a tiny footprint with negligible impact on anything. Of course this is not what the Hospital has in mind but the central issue here is that whatever facility the Hospital would like to construct will have to go before the city’s Planning Board for what is called site plan review which will include another SEQR process.

It will be in the “site plan review” process by the Planning Board that all facets of the actual Hospital project will be presented and scrutinized. The Hospital will have to convince the Planning Board that it can build its idea of a medical office building while mitigating the many potential negative impacts such a structure might have on the areas around it,.

As someone who has endured too many Planning Board meetings, there actually has been on the rare occasion a case of the Planning Board telling a developer that their proposal was too big to be accommodated by the plot on which it would sit.

So the motion crafted by the City Attorney and adopted by the Council on December 23 took great pains to state that the Council had no actual proposal for any site before them. The motion noted that any actual development on any of the parcels that were to be rezoned (there were eighteen total with new zoning) would be subject to a further SEQR process when and if landowners pursued development.

John Franck: “I missed it.”

Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, in his remarks explaining why he would vote no on the rezoning proposals before the Council, went on at some length that the battles over Saratoga National Golf Course’s desire to be allowed to build a hotel in the greenbelt and other major development proposals back in 2015 had resulted in the Comprehensive Plan Committee being blind to the impact of the zoning sought by the Hospital.

John mentioned several times his regret that he had missed the controversial nature of the Hospital issue himself and claimed other Council members had missed this as well when they adopted the Comprehensive Plan in 2015.

While it is undoubtedly true that people who would subsequently oppose the rezoning originally missed it, the issue has been front and center now since 2015 when the hospital applied for a Planned Unit Development to the Council as a means to allow for their expansion. The PUD died because Joanne Yepsen, Mayor at the time, and John recused themselves.

Interestingly a Planned Unit Development in a way combines both the zoning and the actual project in one package for consideration by the Council. In the case of a PUD, a developer proposes that a parcel be used for a particular purpose and presents the actual plans for the structures that will be built on that land. This provides the City Council wide latitude and control over a project. It is a two edged sword as this degree of flexibility in terms of what can be done is also potentially subject to abuse.

In fact, this has been the vehicle for previous expansions by Saratoga Hospital and it had attempted to go this route for developing its proposed medical offices back in 2105.

A subsequent effort by Chris Mathiesen, Public Safety Commissioner at the time, to block the Hospital’s plans by changing the part of the Comprehensive Plan that would allow for the Hospital’s expansion died . At the time, John offered no support to Chris and recused himself from the discussion and voting. John has not until recently raised concerns about the Hospital’s plans and has not pressed for a reconsideration of the Comprehensive Plan.

It seems to me pretty obvious that since the Comprehensive Plan that included the rezoning of property for the Hospital’s expansion was adopted in 2015, the Council has become acutely aware of the Hospital expansion issue. The fact that he and others may have originally missed it has been most clearly corrected. One would have had to be living under the proverbial rock to be unaware of the issues today. The members of the city council are fully aware that they have the authority to change the comprehensive plan and they have chosen not to.

The Hospital has successfully made their case as evidenced by the four to one vote approving the zoning change.

The attorney for the neighbors has told area newspapers that she believes there were legal flaws in the process so it is reasonable to expect that the neighbors will challenge the city’s interpretation of the SEQR along with other as yet unknown issues in court.