By Jim Heaney / Investigative Post
The New York Board of Elections has slapped a campaign committee controlled by Common Council Majority Leader Demone Smith with another fine for failing to file financial disclosure reports.
The most recent fine of $1,121 is at least the seventh assessed against Smith campaign committees. The fines total $4,084 and the committees have yet to pay any of them, including one that dates to March 2008.
Smith, in an interview Tuesday, said he is working with the Board of Elections in an effort to reduce the fines.
"We're trying to get them lowered," he said.
However, John Conklin, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday that Smith "hasn't submitted anything to us yet asking for a break in the judgments."
Conklin added the Elections Board sometimes waives or reduces fines for new committees learning the ropes. But, he added, "If you're someone who has done this repeatedly, the enforcement counsel is going to be less inclined to give you a break."
Fails to file reports on time
Candidates are required to file reports at least twice a year - more often in election years - that disclose who gives them campaign contributions and how they spend that money. The reports enable the public to know who is trying to influence candidates with contributions and how much money politicians are spending to win elections.
Smith has a history of failing to follow state election law, as previously documented by Investigative Post.
At issue are two campaign committees, the Committee to Elect Demone Smith, the vehicle he used for his Council races, and East Buffalo Associates, a committee formed several years ago that Smith is treasurer of.
Smith's problems date to 2005 when he ran for Erie County Legislature. He was required to submit seven reports during that election year, but didn't file any paperwork until the summer of 2006, and only after his failure prompted press coverage.
Smith ran for the Council in 2007 and again failed to file any of the required seven reports until December of that year, after the election was over.
Semi-annual reports were required in 2008 and 2009, non-election years, and those disclosures were filed late, according to records.
His failure to file on time was the subject of a Buffalo News story in January 2010. The paper reported the Board of Elections had obtained judgments against his campaign committee totaling $1,282. None were paid.
His campaign committee's track record since has been hit and miss, Investigative Post found.
A report due January 15, 2010, wasn't filed until March 25 of the following year-some 14 months late. Reports due in January and July 2011 were each filed three days late. A report due January 15 of this year was filed on February 1.
His campaign committee failed to file six reports due last year related to his race for re-election. Reports were due 32 and 11 days prior to the September 13 Democratic primary, as well as 10 days afterwards. Other reports were due 32 and 11 days prior to the November 8 general election, as well as 27 days after the content.
Claims disputed by Board of Elections
Smith, in an interview with Investigative Post last month, said he would work with his campaign committee treasurer to ensure the reports were filed. A subsequent check with the Board of Elections showed the reports had not been filed as of the close of business Monday.
Smith, in an interview Tuesday afternoon insisted the reports were filed several months ago.
"They were filed in January," he said, contradicting when he told Investigative Post in April.
Conklin, of the Board of Elections, said the reports in question were not filed until 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the day after Investigative Post contacted Smith's office about the missing paperwork and just hours before he granted an interview.
During his two races for the Council, Smith has raised $28,942. His biggest contributors include labor unions, including those representing city employees, and elected officials associated with Grassroots, a political club aligned with Mayor Byron Brown that Smith once headed.
The most-current filing with the Board of Elections shows Smith's campaign committee is $801 in the hole.
The second campaign committee, East Buffalo Associates, registered with the Board of Elections on August 23, 2010. Smith said the group was formed to support candidates running for Democratic committee seats. A report due January 15, 2011, was filed March 28 of that year. Reports due in July of last year and January of this year were not filed until April 2012, after Investigative Post reported they had not been submitted.
A report due in January of this year has still not been filed, said Conklin of the Board of Elections. Because of the missing report, the board rejected a request from the committee to terminate operations, he said.
Unpaid fines against East Buffalo Associates total $2,224.
Council president wants problems resolved
Smith, in his interview Tuesday, contended that several other members of the Council are also behind in filing reports with the Board of Elections. An Investigative Post review of board records shows Delaware District Member Michael LoCurto owes three reports dating to last fall's general election.
LoCurto said Wednesday he was unaware his campaign was required to file the reports, as he ran unopposed, and that he would have his treasurer submit the required paperwork shortly
"Obviously, I'll correct the problem," he said.
Unlike Smith, LoCurto has never been fined by the board, Conklin said.
Smith, who represents the Masten District, was elected majority leader in January. Council President Richard Fontana then appointed him chairman of the committee that is now reviewing Mayor Byron Brown's proposed $482 million budget for the city.
Fontana, in an interview Tuesday, said Smith needs to resolve his issues with the Board of Elections.
"He really needs to get somebody in place ... who is going to file these forms for him so this problem goes away," Fontana said.
Should Smith's chronic failure to follow election law disqualify him from a leadership position on the Council?
Fontana said that is an issue for the Council to take up if it so desires. As for himself, Fontana said he'd like to see Smith resolve matters with the Board of Elections by the time the next round of disclosures are due July 15.
"Hopefully by July, everything can be straightened out," he said.
Smith, before he ran for public office, failed to file state income tax returns in 2000 and 2001. State tax officials took legal action in an effort to recover some $6,000 in unpaid taxes and later negotiated a lower payment.
Smith, along with Mayor Brown and Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, have been sued by a Cleveland developer who contends they were part of a pay-to-play scheme involving a proposed housing project on the city's East Side.
Smith's wife, Jayme, pleaded guilty in April to federal bank fraud charges. Jayme Smith, according to the plea deal, last year drafted and mailed some $564,000 in fraudulent checks, some of which she printed at home. Four banks lost about $20,100. She will be sentenced in July.
More of Jim Heaney's Investigations can be found on the Investigative Post web site.
WGRZ/ Investigative Post