In mid-December, the Register-Star ran an article exploring whether racetrack developer Alan Wilzig was funding the controversial GOP campaign to nullify absentee votes in the Town of Taghkanic. (Both the racetrack and the attacks on dual-residency voters came to ignominious ends in the past 10 days.)
Though Wilzig majordomo and Town Board hopeful Erik Tyree constantly conferred with GOP lawyers during hearings, the Republican team vehemently denied that he was “footing” the legal bills:
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” [Columbia County Republican chair Greg] Fingar said about the rumor. “Wilzig is not funding the defense or challenging the absentee ballots.”But given that smoke often indicates the presence of fire, and that the next round of campaign finance reports were due in January, it made sense to wait and see what else turned up. (It's not an uncommon practice, though it's also improper, for political committees to drag their feet on reporting potentially controversial donations until after Election Day.)
Wilzig confirmed that he hadn’t funded any legal fees for the Republicans. [...] Wilzig said he hadn’t given a penny to the Republicans for the case and has not been involved, except for receiving weekly updates from Erik Tyree as to “whether it’s over or not.”
Well, the January post-election filings are now available. Not surprisingly, at least one newly-reported (and substantial) donation to the County Republicans has Wilzig fingerprints all over it.
The Columbia County Republican Housekeeping Account shows a $6,500 donation from “450 PHR LLC,” with an address of “147 Stewart Terrace, Totowa NJ 07512.” Though incorporated in New Jersey, “450 PHR” corresponds to Wilzig’s street address on Post Hill Road in Columbia County. And this same Totowa address is one which Wilzig has used many times in the past when making personal contributions to various Republican causes.
A PDF showing this donation in campaign finance documents can be downloaded by clicking here.
For example, the New York State Board of Elections' searchable campaign finance website shows that Alan Wilzig of “147 Stewart Terrace, Totowa NJ 07512” made a $1,500 contribution in September 2008 to “MJM 4 NY,” a political action committee associated with New York State Assemblyman Marcus J. Molinaro. Wilzig likewise has used that Totowa address when donating to State Senator Saland and the Columbia County GOP Housekeeping Committee, the latter of which reported two donations totaling $10,000 to the State database in Fall 2007.
Furthermore, searches at the New Jersey Department of State's website identify Alan Wilzig as either an officer or director of 450 PHR Inc.:
Meanwhile, the required January filing for the Republican Housekeeping account shows payments made to GOP election attorney James Walsh ($3,000) and to Empire State Investigations ($5,000)—a firm which shares a Rhinebeck address with a private eye Bill Paroli, Jr., who was called to testify (to no effect) on behalf of Fingar’s GOP this month. Paroli is the son of the former Dutchess County political boss sentenced to jail in 2000 after pleading guilty to one count of corruption.
Walsh and Paroli have been principal actors in the challenges mounted to absentee voters here. Now, Fingar might conceivably claim that Wilzig's October contribution, which would be enough to cover the bulk of their challenge expenses declared thus far, was used for purposes other than the election challenges. But given that election funds are fungible, such a spin would be a distinction without a difference. And if so, why was the $6,500 donation not mentioned when Fingar and Wilzig were queried in December by the Register?
(A PDF showing these expenses in campaign finance documents can be downloaded by clicking here.)
The January report also discloses a $2,500 contribution from Tyree himself to the Columbia County Republican Committee, which transferred $5,000 into the Housekeeping account last Fall. Former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso tranferred in $1,000 from his campaign commmittee; Faso was one of a handful of Republicans who attended a December hearing before the 3rd Department in Albany, conferring afterward with Tyree and the GOP legal team.
The irony of ironies in this whole fracas is that Alan Wilzig himself lives mainly in downtown Manhattan, uses a New Jersey address for political contributions, and votes in Columbia County, where he is a relative newcomer of less than four years. He ought to be entitled, under the Election Law, to vote at his home here; but by the (il)logic of the Republican lawyers hired by Fingar, he should be denied his right to designate Taghkanic as his home. And yet the GOP did not challenge his vote—only those of people suspected of leaning to the political Left.
NOTE: No mention has turned up in campaign finance reports of the legal work performed by Republican attorney John Ciampoli on the County Republicans' behalf. Ciampoli claimed in the Register that he was appearing pro bono. The New York State campaign finance database shows some $72,000 in payments made to Ciampoli by various rightward-leaning campaigns over the past decade, but none declared in relation to this particular dispute. Ciampoli was recently appointed Nassau County Attorney, which raises the possibility of him voting from his home in Valatie while spending most of the year working in Mineola.
Given the belligerent tenor of Ciampoli's arguments throughout this debate, one doubts that this new situation will help him better comprehend the soundness of New York State's longstanding rule that the voter—not lawyers and courts—knows best where their own “real” home is.