Ted B. Morton, the Republican candidate for Erie County’s 8th District Legislature seat, touts his 32-year background in financial planning as an asset, but his judgment and fitness for office are being called into question after it was revealed that Morton ran afoul of industry rules by borrowing about $315,000 from seven of his clients between 2009 and 2012.
Morton’s actions were judged to be an ethical breach by the private, self-regulatory organization that monitors member securities and brokerage firms, like the one for which Morton used to work.
In August, the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency fined Morton $5,000 and suspended him from acting as a financial planner for six months. Morton also was fired from his job at LPL Financial.
Morton acknowledged that it was a mistake to borrow from clients. He also said he is hopeful that voters will not judge him harshly, adding that he did not break any federal laws and, otherwise, maintained a spotless compliance record over 32 years in the industry.
“I’m a business owner, and during the Great Recession, my business was hurt,” Morton said.
“I have lines of credit that were called in during that time. I’m not happy or pleased that happened, but I reached out to family and close friends, and also clients for some short-term assistance. They have all been either repaid with interest or are in the process of being repaid with interest,” he added.
Not surprisingly, Morton’s explanation was not accepted by those supporting his Democratic opponent, Wynnie L. Fisher of Alden. Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner insisted that Morton’s actions were serious enough that the fallout should be an issue in the campaign.
“What concerns me most is that he has been misleading voters by touting his financial expertise, and that’s just false,” Zellner said.
“It’s a serious breach of ethics and at a time when we desperately need honest people in government,” Zellner added.
Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy had a different take.
“I think this is an absolute nothing story,” Langworthy said.
“Ted Morton has a long record as an advocate for taxpayers ... fighting against waste and fighting for lower taxes. He also has a very long history as a financial planner helping people plan for their futures,” Langworthy added.
A Depew resident, Morton has never held elected office. He was defeated by Democrat Mary Holtz in the 2011 race for Cheektowaga town supervisor and had an unsuccessful run in 2009 for the old 8th District Legislature seat against incumbent Democrat Thomas J. Mazur, as well as a failed 1996 bid for the Assembly seat that was held by Democrat Paul A. Tokasz.
Morton said County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s proposal for an $8.5 million budget increase in 2012 prompted him to run.
“I just got frustrated with a proposal for another tax increase when I have seen scores of friends, family members and clients leave the area because of high taxes,” Morton said. “The effect is that businesses don’t grow, or they leave here or don’t come here at all.”
Fisher, his Democratic challenger for the seat being vacated by Legislator Terrence B. McCracken – also a Democrat – does not profess to be a fan of raising taxes, either.
“It would be great if we could lower them ... of course, everybody is going to say we can’t raise taxes, and I don’t think we should raise taxes,” said Fisher.
She is a former middle school teacher who, for the past 14 years has helped train those aspiring to the profession in her job as a field experience coordinator at SUNY Buffalo State. Fisher currently serves as chairwoman of Alden’s Democratic committee, but has never held elective office.
Both she and Morton will also face third party candidate Wesley S. Moore, whose name will appear on the Working Families line even though Moore lost the Democratic primary to Fisher. The 8th Legislative District includes the eastern portion of Cheektowaga plus Lancaster and Alden.