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Sedita's Golden Fleece

Some campaign contributions come unsolicited, a few dollars here, a few dollars there. Bigger one-shot donations, in the thousands of dollars, are more often solicited personally by the candidate.

Then there are fundraising events, which run the gamut from humble, give-what-you-can beer-and-pizza parties (such as the one held Tuesday night at Hoppers Rush Inn on Seneca Street for Erie County Legislature candidate Pat Burke) to the ruthless fleecings of public employees and those who make a living at or near the public trough, which are the province of highly placed elected officials who control jobs and contracts.

Locally, one of the biggest one-night hauls in the most recent six-month reporting period, which ended last week, replenished the war-chest of Erie County District Attonrey Frank A. Sedita III. At a May 29 fundraiser at Tempo Restaurant, Sedita’s campaign committee raked in $87,100, which, after about $18,700 in expenditures, left Sedita with $175,000 in the bank.

Most of the individual donors were employees of the DA’s office—lawyers, investigators, administrative staff—from whom the standard donation was either $500 or $1,000. Most of the other donors were law firms.

Sedita ran unopposed for re-election last year. Between the beginning of 2009, when he first took office, to the day of last November’s election, Sedita’s campaign committee spent a total of about $106,000, which is about how much he had on hand before the Tempo fundraiser. The greater part of those expenditures where contributions to political party committees and campaign committees for other elected officials.

If Sedita decides to run for a third term in 2016, he will likely run unopposed again, barring some scandal in the DA’s office that makes him vulnerable to a challenge. Most observers of local politics believe that he will leave the DA’s office before then to become a judge. So why is Sedita collecting campaign cash now?

Call it making hay while the sun shines. In the weeks before the fundraiser at Tempo, we heard about a staff meeting held at a West Side restaurant. Sedita did not attend, but two of his top lieutenants in the office told those assembled that their boss needed to prepare for an inevitable challenge in 2016 and expected their support at the upcoming fundraiser. They were told how much their support would cost, according to the story we heard.

The DA’s office has 89 prosecutors, 16 investigators, and 56 support staff, according to the 2013 Erie County budget. There were 111 individual donations received at the Tempo fundraiser—again, the vast majority from Sedita’s employees or their spouses. If Sedita follows in his late father’s footsteps and becomes a New York State Supreme Court judge, as many suspect will happen, he will still have to pay the price of holding an elected position: He’ll have to pay tribute to party leaders, donate to other candidates, possibly even mount one last campaign before he retires.

But as a judge, he won’t have so big a staff from which to harvest campaign contributions. Much easier to raise the money he’ll need to buy his judgeship now than to wait until the sheep shears are in someone else’s hands.

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