Niagara Gazette

November 4, 2013

Shining a light on council candidate's contributions

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Political money and influence drives campaigns and gives voters insight into the decisions that lawmakers might make once elected to office.

The Gazette has outlined the political contributions and spending for the seven candidates vying for three open seats on the Niagara Falls City Council.

Robert Elder, a political newcomer who stopped actively campaigning in early October, will appear on a Republican line on the general election ballot. He did not file reports with the state board of elections, according to the campaign finance database. 

Sam Fruscione, a two-term incumbent running on the Conservative and Independence party lines after losing out in a four-way primary for three Democratic lines in the general election, has raised $21,928 since the beginning of the year and has spent $21,132 in that time.

Frusicione’s largest contributions included $1,000 from Indian Ocean LLC, a company that owns several hotels throughout the city, $2,000 from JD Gifts LLC, $1,650 from Laborers Local No. 91, $500 from Niagara Falls Redevelopment, $500 from fellow council member Robert Anderson, Jr. and $4,946 in unitemized contributions.

Kristen Grandinetti, a first-term incumbent, has raised $23,849 since Jan. 1 and has spent $18,533. The majority of her money has come in the form of small to moderate donations with $11,759 of total funds raised coming in 78 donations of $500 or less. She has received $500 or more  from 10 donors, with three donations, including her largest donation of $3,650 listed as unitemized. Mark Hamister, the developer of a controversial hotel project in downtown Niagara Falls donated $1,000 to her campaign on Oct. 1, less than two weeks after the hotel project gained approval from the council after being delayed for months. Grandinetti has been a vocal supporter of the project since it was announced and provided one of the three votes necessary to move the project forward.

Vincent Sandonato, a former county legislator and law student at the University at Buffalo, will occupy a Republican line on the general election ballot. He has not formed a committee for his council campaign and is not required to under state election law so long as he does not raise or spend more than $1,000 for his campaign. However, Sandonato has enjoyed the financial backing of the county and state Republican committees. The committees have paid for lawn signs palm cards and mailers on behalf of the candidate. Filings from the state committee with the board of elections show that they have spent $9,800 on Sandonato’s campaign, while the county committee has not filed any paperwork in regards to the primary or general election.

Andrew Touma, a political newcomer who won a Democratic line on the general election ballot in a September primary, has raised $16,686 since beginning to campaign in June, with 36 of the 43 contributors giving less tan $500, $7,467 in total. Touma’s largest contributors include his cousin Craig Touma, a political ally of Mayor Paul Dyster, who gave him $760 while the Niagara Falls Fire Fighters political action committee gave him $1,250 and Merani Holdings LLC, the hotel company that owns the Four Points Sheraton on Buffalo Avenue and has a downtown hotel projects in the works, giving him $1,000. Touma has spent $7,900.

Russel Vesci, a Niagara Falls Water Board employee who is running on a Republican line, has raised $6,486 with only two of the 40 contributions exceeding $500. Vesci contributed $605 to his own campaign and there is an unitemized contribution of $1,170. Other notable contributions include a $250 gift from Niagara Falls Redevelopment, $250 from Local Laborers No. 91 and $250 from the city Republicans. Vesci has spent $4,891 on his campaign.

Charles Walker, the four-term incumbent and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center employee, has only filed two of the seven documents required by the state board of elections this year. Those documents show that Walker received $1,725 in contributions and had spent no money through July, according to the documents filed with the board of elections.

The campaign started the year with a balance of $1,200, bringing the total account balance to $2,925.

Walker received no donations in excess of $500. Jimmy Searight, the executive director of the New Jerusalem Reporting Center, gave the largest of the 26 reported contributions at $250.

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