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Judge Orders Jacobs to Comply With the Law

School board member must file accurate campaign contribution records

left: Jacobs, right: Joyce

As Buffalonians—or at least those registered as Democrats—head to the polls on Tuesday to vote in a primary that will likely decide the next mayor, it’s still impossible to perform an accurate analysis of last May’s school board election due to the incomplete campaign contribution records turned in by at-large school board member Christopher Jacobs.

That may soon be changing thanks to a ruling handed down last Tuesday, September 1, by Hon. Frederick J. Marshall. According to court transcripts, Marshall thinks “it is in the public interest that disclosure be made and that is full and complete disclosure of names and addresses of who is contributing. Anonymous is not a name. Anonymous has no address. All of that has to be disclosed.” His ruling from the bench gave Jacobs 20 days to so following notice of entry of the order.

This all stems from Artvoice coverage of last May’s school board election, and a series of stories that focused on the involvement of an unregistered and seemingly illegal entity called Buffalo Students First. This group sent out a series of expensive campaign mailers with different messages targeted to different demographic groups in the city, and featured local politicians Byron Brown, Crystal Peoples, and Antoine Thompson appearing to endorse the slate of incumbent candidates that included Jacobs, Florence Johnson, and Catherine Collins. Jacobs and Johnson retained their seats—albeit only after a tally of absentee ballots in Johnson’s case—while Collins was replaced by newcomer John Licata, who picked up more votes than any other candidate in the election.

On the mailers, Buffalo Students First listed the same address as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership—665 Main Street. Glenn Aronow, director of government relations for the Partnership, eventually acknowledged that his group supported Buffalo Students First, although the group had never filed for so much as a DBA. They eventually listed over $30,000 in campaign expenditures, while the statutory limit for such transactions is $25. In May, Judge Marshall noted in a separate ruling that “the Legislature has provided no remedy to an aggrieved party, nor does it define such conduct as a criminal offense. Again, this is an area that the Legislature is advised to address should it so desire.”

What is of interest in the current case is the length to which Jacobs, through his attorney Paul G. Joyce, sought to avoid disclosure. Having failed to supply accurate and complete records in a timely fashion, our attorney, Peter A. Reese, filed an order to show cause on July 27 to force their release.

This was met with a motion to dismiss from Joyce, based on the fact that two months after the filing deadline, and without telling a soul, Jacobs submitted yet another late filing with the school board.

“Petitioners cannot claim ignorance of the filing. As stated in numerous sworn statements, two of the Petitioners are professional reporters and are familiar with how to access and the [sic] review public documents,” Joyce argued.

Based on this, he said that our case was frivolous, without merit, and that our intent was “to harass and maliciously injure Mr. Jacobs.”

It would have been a neat little trick for them to have pulled off, but there was one lingering problem—the late forms were still hopelessly inadequate, and the judge agreed. By our attorney’s count, addresses are omitted 276 times, names are incomplete or unusable 179 times.

As we approach the five-month mark after the school board election, there’s renewed hope that with Judge Marshall’s current decision, a full disclosure of who and what contributed close to $54,000 to Jacobs’s campaign will be made available to the public.

Visit Artvoice Daily to read the legal documents related to this case.

buck quigley

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