The campaign for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has released a list of 28 donors its manager says collectively gave $25,000 to the campaign in the last six months but whose contributions were missing in the financial disclosure statement filed with the state Board of Election this week.
The campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, is facing scrutiny over a $30,000 infusion of cash it reported receiving from a political action committee created by Warren called Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC.
Political action committees can donate to candidates, but they are required to adhere to contribution limits. In the race for mayor, the most Warren can accept from a single donor is $8,557.
In reporting the $30,000 transfer to the state, the Friends of Lovely Warren explained in a brief note appended to its financial disclosure form that the $30,000 was always intended for the campaign but that those donations were inadvertently sent to the PAC through PayPal.
The note read: “PayPal send (sic) contributions to wrong acct. estimated at $30,000.”
Campaign manager Brittaney Wells released a statement late Tuesday that said it would file an amended report with the state that would reflect $25,000 in individual contributions as though they were made directly to Friends of Lovely Warren.
The statement also read that $5,000 of the $30,000 from the PAC should not have been sent to Friends of Lovely Warren, and that the Friends would return $5,000 to the PAC immediately.
As a result, the $312,750 that the Friends of Lovely Warren reported having on hand to fund Warren’s re-election bid will decrease to $307,750.
The campaign released the list of 28 donors as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The list included the names of those who gave and amounts, but no date. The amounts ranged from a low of $200 to a high of $2,500.
Most of the donations, however, were in increments of $300 and $600, which was the cost of a single ticket or pair of tickets, respectively, to the Mayor’s Ball, which was held in February and has been an annual fundraiser for Warren since 2015.
Indeed, one of the donors, Robin Flanigan recalled the $600 she gave as paying for two tickets to the 2017 ball. Flanigan is a freelance writer for the Democrat and Chronicle, whose husband, Patrick Flanigan, a former Democrat and Chronicle writer, works in communications for the Warren administration.
Flanigan said she had intended to give the money to the mayor’s re-election campaign, which is being run by the Friends of Lovely Warren. Flanigan said she believed she paid for the tickets through PayPal, but that she could not be sure.
A handful of the donors regularly give to elected officials, including Warren, according to campaign finance records on file with the state. But most of them appear to have not given to a political campaign of any kind in recent years.
Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC has been criticized by Warren’s challenger for the Democratic ticket, Monroe County Legislator James Sheppard, as acting as a second campaign account for Warren, which would violate state Election Law.
Her other opponent in the Democratic primary, Rachel Barnhart, has also objected and used the issue to call for campaign finance reform.
Specifically, Sheppard has pointed to the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC hosting the 2016 Mayor’s Ball. The PAC paid for the event and took in the revenue from ticket sales, neither of which are illegal.
The event, however, was advertised online as one that “raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my re-election campaign.”
Sheppard has argued that the PAC spending tens of thousands of dollars on hosting the event, which it did, amounts to an excessive and, thus, illegal contribution to Warren’s re-election bid.
He filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections in April. The board has acknowledged receiving the complaint but has not rendered an opinion on the matter.
Because the board does not acknowledge ongoing investigations, it remains unclear whether the matter is being probed or when any resolution might be made public.
Wells, Warren’s campaign manager, has insisted the two accounts are separate and that the PAC has not funded any of the mayor’s quest for a second term.
Wells did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions seeking clarification on how a contribution intended for Friends of Lovely Warren could have been rerouted by PayPal to the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC, and how the campaign could be sure the donors on the list wanted their money to go to the campaign and not to the PAC.
Warren launched the PAC in 2015, telling the Democrat and Chronicle at the time that the committee was affiliated with her fundraising team and would allow her to support various initiatives, events and candidates.
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