Niagara Gazette

November 1, 2013

Dems: Sandanato's "shoe-string" campaign being financed by state, county GOP

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls City Council candidate Vincent Sandonato has not raised any of his own campaign funds this year. 

That’s because state and county Republican committees have handled his fundraising for him.

Sandonato, who is one of three candidates running on a Republican line in the seven-way general election, has not formed a campaign committee and does not intend to before the Nov. 5 general election. The county’s Republican committee has paid for lawn signs and palm cards while the New York Republican State Committee has picked up the tab for mailers in support of his campaign, he said.

“The county is the supporter,” Sandonato said. “The county Republicans are backing me.”

The former county legislator has filed paperwork with the county but not the state, all within the bounds of election law so long as he does not spend or raise more than $1,000.

The state committee has spent $9,800 on Sandonato’s campaign while the Niagara County Republican Committee has not filed any documents related to election season, according the state board of elections’ database.

Bill Gallagher, a spokesperson for the Niagara County Democratic Party, said Sandonato’s claims that he’s been running a “shoe-string” campaign were disingenuous.

“Sandonato has displayed the height of hypocrisy by using secondary funds for his campaign,” Gallagher said.

Sandonato, who has close ties to county and state Republican party leadership dating back to his time in the legislature, could represent a seat for Republicans in the heavily Democratic city, Gallagher said.

“The local leadership in Albany may have an interest in seeing him elected,” he said.

Gallagher said Sandonato’s use of committee funding allows him to run his campaign without being held to the same transparency requirements and scrutiny as his opponents.

“Sandonato is having a financed campaign, but he doesn’t have the accountability of having his own funds and his own campaign, in which case he would have to file with the state,” Gallagher said.

The Republican state committee has also circulated mailers questioning the record of endorsed Democrat Charles Walker.

David Laska, the director of communications for the Republican state committee, responded to multiple phone calls seeking comment with this statement in an email.

“The state party has and continues to support all of its candidates at the federal, state, and local level,” Laska said. “We have an extensive local assistance program that supports Republican candidates across the state in an effort to help them win elections. This includes the state party paying for and producing mail in support of their candidacies.”

Sandonato is the lone council candidate without a campaign committee for city council. 

Walker, the four-term Democratic incumbent, is the only active candidate that has not filed all required documents with the state board of elections, filing one of the seven documents required by the state this year.

The mailers list some of Sandonato’s policy platforms, suggest that he will act as a peacemaker on a divided council and tout his Niagara Falls roots with pictures of his parents and grandparents in the Cataract City beside photos of the candidate on the campaign trail.

Sandonato pointed to the clear markings on his mailers identifying the state committee as the source, saying they demonstrate his campaign’s openness about the state support.

“I think we’ve made it pretty transparent that the mailers are coming from the state committee,” he said.

Sandonato said that the committees’ support of his campaign essentially amounts to a marginal difference between he and his opponents in the race for three open seats on the five-member body, as both the Republican and Democratic committees in the city and county offer financial support to their candidates, whether it’s through direct spending or the candidates’ campaign committees.

While Sandonato has enjoyed the support of the state and county committees, in the end the success or failure of his campaign will come down to his efforts to communicate with voters, he said.

“There’s nothing else to it,” Sandonato said. “It’s going door-to-door and talking to neighbors.”

Sandonato said the county Democrats are trying to “make an issue” where there isn’t one, as political entities passing money back and forth and committees backing candidates for their party is simply part of politics.

The county Democratic committee and minor party committees have paid for mailers and advertisements in support of their endorsed candidates and mailers attacking their opponents.

“I’d imagine that county Democrats are doing it the exact same way,” Sandonato said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257