BUFFALO, NY - From the days of being a newly-elected mayor in 2006 and the days of campaigning in his first re-election bid three years later, Mayor Byron Brown accepted campaign contributions from some of the same lobbying firms that were improperly paid with federal funds.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, the city paid three lobbying firms -- with federal dollars -- money that should have gone to the community.
The firms are Capitol Partners, American Continental Group and Patton Boggs. And, they were paid over a five-year period from 2005 to 2010.
Earlier this month, in an interview with 2 On Your Side, Mayor Brown addressed the payments.
"When I started there were firms that were retained and we continued the practice not knowing there was an issue at that time," Brown said.
A total of nine payments were made to the firms totaling $124,000.
All of this while, according to HUD, the city said it wouldn't spend federal funds on lobbyists.
"Again, they were getting paid, they were working and again, I thought it was appropriate," Brown said.
The payments were inappropriate because there's a federal code prohibiting federal grants from being used to influence or attempt to influence a member of Congress.
Through a Freedom of Information request, 2 On Your Side has obtained a list of the inappropriate payments -- showing when they were made, how much the payments were and who got the money. We've also researched Mayor Brown's campaign donations and whether he was ever supported by those same lobbyists.
REPORTER: To your knowledge did you ever receive a campaign contribution from the lobbying firms?
BROWN: "Not to my knowledge."
It turns out the mayor was supported by two of the firms. The first time period of concern was when Mayor Brown was first elected.
Brown took the oath of office on Dec. 31, 2005.
At the time, he called for more accountability in City Hall and wanted to improve the lives of all city residents, among other goals.
According to campaign finance records, 11 days later, a $2,500 campaign contribution was made from Capitol Partners to the "Brown for Buffalo," account.
The very next day, according to HUD, Capitol Partners got a $5,000 improper payment from City Hall, which used federal dollars for the payment.
Over the next three months, two more city payments were made to the same firm -- totaling $15,000. And then, on April 27, 2006, Capitol Partners made a $500 donation to "Mayor Brown's Leadership Council."
This was followed up with yet another $5,000 improper payment the next month to Capitol Partners.
The second time period that raises questions is in the fall of 2009, during Mayor Brown's re-election campaign in the Democratic Primary. Mayor Brown was running for a second term against Mickey Kearns, who was a city council member at the time.
Campaign finance records show, on Sept. 18, 2009, American Continental Group made a $2,500 campaign contribution to "Brown for Buffalo." According to HUD, five months later in February of 2010 -- and after the election -- ACG got a $9,000 improper payment from the city.
And the next month, according to invoices we've obtained from HUD, Mayor Brown was in the White House -- rubbing shoulders with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a top Google official and Obama Administration officials. Invoices from HUD say that the city used non-federal funds to pay ACG to schedule the White House trip.
"High-level meetings were held, there were meetings with many federal officials and the city felt like it was well-represented," Brown said.
2 On Your Side couldn't find any campaign donations to the mayor directly from Patton Boggs, the third lobbying firm. But, between 2007 and 2010, Patton Boggs earned about $280,000 from the city. HUD says that at least $75,000 of this money came from federal funds that should have gone to the community instead.
So, if you follow the money, HUD sends grant funding to Buffalo that should go to impoverished neighborhoods, but some of it is instead spent improperly on lobbyists. And in the same time frame, Mayor Brown got donations from two lobbying firms that shouldn't be getting the federal money in the first place.
And just in case you wondering, if there was any chance the mayor may have returned the contributions, we checked the mayor's campaign reports with the state Board of Elections -- all the way back to 2006 -- and we found no record of any campaign contributions refunded to the two lobbying firms.
Meantime, the mayor's office has not granted us an interview after multiple requests, since our first interview with the mayor earlier this month.
We do know that in 2011, the city's relationship with all the lobbying firms ended -- and that's when two of the firms were subpoenaed for documents, as part of the HUD investigation into the city.