Antoine M. Thompson speaks passionately about helping Buffalo’s East Side, declaring that more of the Buffalo Billion needs to help the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
His focus on money, in fact, permeates much of this talk, making clear that – when it comes to improving city schools, city housing, and access to jobs and services – money matters.
But Thompson also has faced his own money troubles in recent years.
The state Assembly candidate owed the federal government $56,289 in back taxes as of the end of 2013, according to records on file with the Erie County Clerk’s office. In 2012, Thompson was also $7,820 behind in child-support payments, New York State records show.
The Buffalo Democrat said he ran into some tough times financially but that he paid the child support bill off two months ago and worked out a three-year payment plan with the Internal Revenue Service last year.
“During life, we all have upsets,” Thompson said. “Some people give up, and some people stand back up. I stood back up. I am paying all my bills.”
There are also issues with Thompson’s campaign finance spending reports.
The last campaign report from Thompson’s days as a Buffalo councilman shows $16,000 left in the account in 2006, but Thompson says the account is actually empty. He just didn’t file a required final report detailing how the campaign funds were spent. He should have done that, and will, he said.
Thompson’s financial reports in his final year as a state senator – he served from 2007 through 2010 – show he spent $4,477 more than he raised in his failed re-election campaign in 2010.
Thompson continued to raise money after the campaign ended and also continued spending, the reports show. In the 2012 campaign season, when he was neither in office nor running for office, Thompson raised about $11,200 and spent about $10,600 in campaign funds. Some of the money went to rent storage space for his campaign signs, to buy a computer and to pay off some prior campaign debt, including a $500 loan Thompson made to himself, the reports show.
The money also went to support causes he believed in, Thompson said. Among organizations receiving contributions were Canisius College, the Grassroots political club and Mayor Byron W. Brown’s campaign.
Such fundraising and spending is legal, even if a person is not a candidate or officeholder, according to John W. Conklin, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.
“I was not an official candidate, but people asked me to consider running, and I chose not to,” Thompson said. “People said ‘I heard you may be considering’ and sent me contributions.”
Thompson raised less than $1,000 the following campaign year.
When he decided to run in the Democratic primary for state Assembly this year, the campaign finance committee he has used since first running for state Senate in 2006 was about $11,755 in the red, campaign reports show.
The state Election Board wanted that account debt cleared up before he could open a new account for his Assembly campaign, Thompson said.
Campaign reports filed Aug. 15 with the state Board of Elections show the Senate account was $4,725 in the red, but Thompson last week said those bills are now paid off. He opened a new Assembly fundraising account Tuesday.
That Assembly account shows Thompson’s campaign since July 2013 – the beginning of the current campaign fundraising period – raised $10,683, spent $10,004 and received $7,750 in in-kind contributions, mostly for campaign signs and office rent. About a month before the Sept. 9 primary, that left $639 remaining in the account, though Thompson had more fundraisers planned.
Thompson, 44, first held elective office at age 31, representing the Masten District on the Buffalo Common Council from 2001 through 2006. Then he began his first of two terms in the state Senate. He lost a re-election bid in November 2010. In December 2012, Mayor Brown named Thompson head of the Buffalo Employment and Training Council, which paid $80,000 a year. Thompson quit that job in June of this year, just before announcing he was running for State Assembly.
“I’d rather work for the people than the politicians,” he recently said.
In addition to his public sector work, Thompson views himself as a businessman and entrepreneur. He works as a consultant and publishes a magazine that he recently started up.
Most of his financial problems, he said, trace back to when his income dropped after he left the Senate and turned to his business and entrepreneurial work.
“Start-ups take time,” he said.
But beyond that, Thompson said part of his tax problem is related to his vehicle mileage expenses in the Buffalo area during his years as a state senator.
Thompson said he drove a lot locally as a state senator, and he included his local mileage expenses in his federal taxes. The government subsequently asked for his mileage logs to substantiate his expenses, he said.
“I had logs but not as accurate as they wanted. We worked out a payment agreement,” he said. “There are two more years left.”
Thompson is challenging Democratic incumbent Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes in the primary.
Peoples-Stokes, 62, has held the 141st District Assembly seat since 2002. Campaign finance records show Peoples-Stokes spent $70,957 so far in the current campaign year and had $96,037 left in her campaign chest a month before the primary election. Among her listed contributors is Thompson. He donated $175 to Peoples-Stokes’ campaign in October 2013. Eight months later, Thompson announced he was running against her.
“She had a fundraiser,” he recently said. “I just attended a fundraiser.”
In past years, from 2003 to 2007, Peoples-Stokes was criticized for failing to file 14 required campaign spending reports. She has subsequently filed all required reports, records show.
Peoples-Stokes in 2004 also found herself in a legal entanglement with the state when Lottery officials claimed a liquor store operated by the assemblywoman’s cousin, but which listed Peoples-Stokes as lottery agent, owed almost $18,000 from lottery ticket sales. The state Attorney General’s office Friday declined to comment when asked for an update on the claim. Peoples-Stokes did not respond to a request for comment, but she has previously said: “I did a favor for a family member and let my name be used on the business my father had for 25 years. I had to borrow money I had for my grandson’s college to pay debts that were not mine.”
The Legislature ethics form Peoples-Stokes filed this year lists the now-defunct business, Davis Liquor Chest, as a debtor with a contested liability.