ALBANY – State Sen. George D. Maziarz is leaving office with $1.1 million in his campaign account, a remarkable sum for a rank-and-file state lawmaker who has had little in the way of genuine political challenges in his re-election races over the years.
The leftover cash cannot be used directly for personal expenses, but if past experience is any indication, the money could pay for any legal expenses incurred while he was in office. Other lawmakers who have gotten into trouble with the law in the past have used campaign money for that purpose.
Maziarz, 61, a Newfane Republican, surprised the Albany political world by announcing Sunday night that he is not running for re-election but said that it had nothing to do with the investigation into his campaign money by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara. Among the areas of interest is more than $140,000 in unitemized campaign expenses by Maziarz over the years.
In his campaign disclosure report filed Wednesday with the state Board of Elections, Maziarz listed $5,400 in unitemized expenses. Such expenses are permitted under certain rules.
Maziarz took in $268,000 since mid-January from a who’s who of Albany lobbying insiders, corporations and special interests with business at the Capitol.
Among his $132,000 in expenses during the period was $3,100 in various reimbursements – the purposes were not detailed – to Alisa D. Colatarci, his former chief of staff who recently resigned. Her attorney has confirmed that she has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York City for information about Maziarz and his campaign. Her lawyer said she is not a target of the probe.
Also getting more than $800 in expense reimbursements was Marcus R. Hall, another former staffer.
All campaign donations – in three different contributor categories – ceased June 16. That is nearly a month before the July 11 cutoff period by the Board of Elections for the July disclosure report that lists financial activities of campaigns going back to mid-January.
One payment Maziarz made for “legal expenses” was dated Jan. 14, when Maziarz’s campaign paid $600 to Joseph M. LaTona, a Buffalo lawyer who represents the senator.
If the federal investigation goes anywhere, it is uncertain whether Maziarz will tap into his soon-to-be-defunct campaign account to pay for legal representation. Maziarz has not responded to numerous calls and text messages.
Maziarz was chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and his donations show hefty contributions from businesses and unions involved in the energy sector, as well as numerous Albany lobbying firms, New York City real estate interests, cable and chemical interests, and just about all the major unions representing public- and private-sector workers.
It is uncertain when Maziarz made his decision not to run again. Senate Republicans said they did not learn of his decision until Sunday. His campaign filings suggest that something was afoot in mid-June; his last transfer to a local GOP or Conservative Party organization came June 13, and he had donated $17,000 to local organizations from Niagara Falls to Monroe County in the previous months. Such transfers to local party groups are common among lawmakers who want to curry support or thank the groups for their support.
The senator’s campaign filing also lists about $35,000 in donations made prior to Jan. 11, which was the cutoff date for when such contributions should have been reported in the last financial disclosure report due at the Board of Elections in January. Some went back as far as last October.
Over the years, the list of lawmakers who have dipped into their campaign accounts to pay for their legal fees is a long one, from former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, who recently was acquitted on corruption charges after two trials, to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who used his account to help pay for a lawyer involving his handling of a sexual-harassment case against former Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, who also used his campaign account for a lawyer involving those accusations.
Whether Maziarz will ever need to use his account to pay for any legal bills is unknown since neither the U.S. attorney nor the senator has discussed the ongoing probe.
But, if needed, there is $1.1 million in his campaign bank account. “One of the perks of being a New York State legislator is the ability to build up a war chest to fund any legal defense that one might need after leaving office,” said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group.