By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — Elected and political leaders on both sides of the aisle in Niagara County have been receiving campaign donations from the Niagara Falls election services firm, NTS Data Services, for many years.
The practice is not inappropriate or illegal, according to officials with the New York State Board of Elections.
Locally, candidates and party chairmen say they don’t have a problem with it either, noting again and again that NTS has always provided quality service to the Niagara County Board of Elections. Noting as well that they do not believe the firm’s donations to their campaigns pose any issue where local elections are concerned.
“I never had a problem with the service they provide to the county,” said Niagara County Legislator and Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. “They always gave us good service.”
Records on file with the New York State Board of Elections show that’s not all NTS has given county officials.
Financial disclosure forms show the company has donated a total of $49,698 to various candidates and committees in Niagara and Erie counties since Jan. 1, 2006.
Records show the Niagara County Democratic Committee receiving $13,000 from the company since that date, including donations of $1,500 each in 2006 and 2007 and five years of donations of $2,000 apiece from 2008 through 2012.
Similarly, NYS Board of Elections filings indicate that the Niagara County Republican Committee has received $9,500 from NTS Data Corp. since 2007, including a $1,500 donation that year and donations of $2,000 each subsequent year through 2011.
Virtuoso, whose campaign received a $200 donation from NTS in May of 2007, said the situation is not unlike other instances where firms doing business with the county donate money to elected officials. He noted that engineering companies and other businesses frequently donate to campaigns at all levels of government.
“That’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “I don’t think you are ever going to change that.”
Is it different when it comes to a company that is provided software and services tied to the election process?
Virtuoso said he would be more concerned if the company’s donations favored one party over another.
“I could see if they just donated to one party, but they are playing neutral pretty much,” Virtuoso said.
Mike Norris, chairman of the Niagara County GOP, agreed, noting the level of contribution from the company has been relatively equal between Republicans and Democrats throughout the years.
Norris also noted that NTS is a Niagara Falls firm and he believes it makes sense for county lawmakers to hire locally whenever possible for all services, including those tied to elections.
Both county elections board commissioners — Democrat Nancy Smith and Republican Mary Ann Casemento — strongly endorsed NTS and the services it has provided to the board of elections, attesting to the high quality of the firm’s work.
When asked what they thought of the donations as they relate to the elections process in Niagara County, both Smith and Casemento declined to offer opinions.
“It has nothing to do with us,” Smith said.
The list of campaign committees for individual Niagara County officials who have received campaign cash from NTS in recent years includes: Virtuoso; former county lawmaker Sean O’Connor, a Democrat ($100 in 2007); Republican county Legislator Clyde Burmaster ($200 in 2007 and $100 in 2009); former county Treasurer David Broderick ($200 in 2006); North Tonawanda Clerk and former county Republican elections commissioner Scott Kiedrowski ($200 in 2010); Niagara County Clerk Wayne Jagow ($100 in 2007) and Republican county legislator Paul Wojtaszek ($1,000 in 2010 to his Wojtaszek for Justice committee).
The firm’s owner, Dr. Charles Dewald, said the list reflects what the company views as the best candidates available for elected office. He suggested it also shows that the firm has done its best to contribute equally to both Republicans and Democrats throughout the years.
“NTS Data Services, attempts to makes a positive contribution to Niagara County and its residents by making modest, but meaningful, balanced contributions to the election process and supporting quality elected officials,” Dewald said in a statement. “In addition to paying taxes, this is how we share our business success with the county in which we reside.”
The largest amount of campaign money from NTS has been donated to the campaign committee supporting state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane. State elections board records show Maziarz’s committee has received a total of $24,500 from the company since 2006. Disclosure reports indicate the committee received $3,000 donations in both 2006 and 2007, $5,000 in 2008, two donations totaling $6,000 in 2010, two totaling $4,500 last year and one donation of $3,000 this year.
Maziarz was involved in two elections in 2012 — a September primary and the November general election. He was victorious both times, earning a 10th term as the representative in the state senate’s 62nd District.
Dewald said the reasons for the company’s support of Maziarz’s campaign were similar to those tied to contributions to other candidates: The firm believes he’s been a good advocate for Niagara County, the place where NTS does business and pays its taxes.
“I think George Maziarz has done an excellent job in Niagara County and has done a job that has given him high esteem in the state senate,” Dewald said.
Dewald offered similar reasons when asked why his company elected to make donations to other area politicians, including Kiedrowski, a former Republican elections commissioner who received campaign funds from NTS when he ran for North Tonawanda clerk in 2010.
“That’s just the way things are,” Dewald said. “Did it buy me any favors? No. It doesn’t buy me anything other than to say ‘look, we think you are a quality person.’ “
Maziarz said his personal relationship with Dewald dates back decades and he believes his firm has donated to his campaign throughout the years because — like other contributors — the company supports the work he’s doing in the state Senate.
As for the company’s working relationship with the Niagara County Board of Elections, Maziarz said he’s not intimately familiar with the type of services offered by NTS but does not believe it would be in a position to have an impact on the election process itself.
“I don’t think that the work that they do is the type that could influence the outcome of an election,” Maziarz said. “It’s more technical in nature.”
Dewald said his firm doesn’t operate at “anything less than 100 percent integrity,” adding that if voters petition their elected officials to demand that his company stop making campaign donations, he’ll do so. He said the campaign funds were intended to enhance the election process locally, not detract from it.
“All of this, we feel, improves the quality of the election process in Niagara County,” Dewald said. “In some ways, we feel we’re contributing back.”mug of Maziarz, George George Maziarz Received $24K from firm