The Democratic candidate for the area’s vacant state Senate seat is calling out his opposition for alleged “pay-to-play” fundraising, while the Republican calls it “a baseless attack” not worthy of a response.
On Friday, Freedom resident Austin Morgan, the Democratic candidate to replace retired state Sen. Catharine Young for the 57th District seat in November, blasted a fundraising dinner for Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello hosted by the developers of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron on Thursday. Tickets were $50, with sponsorships up to $1,000 available to donors.
“This fundraiser is unethical at best and a severe campaign finance violation at worst,” Morgan said in a statement, noting he was planning to file a complaint with the state Board of Elections and the Chautauqua County Board of Ethics.
Borrello declined to answer direct questions on Morgan’s statement, dismissing the concern outright.
“This is simply ridiculous,” Borrello said in a statement to the Times Herald. “This is a baseless attack that doesn’t warrant a response. I will continue to focus on the issues that are important to the people of the 57th Senate District. I will stand up for the people of the district like I have for the people of Chautauqua County. I will continue to push back against radical policies coming out of Albany.”
The event held Thursday was hosted by David Hart and Peter Krog, according to the Facebook event page. Orchard Park-based Krog Corp. and Buffalo-based Hart Hotels partnered on the project, cutting the ribbon on the project in September 2018.
The partners have collaborated on other projects, including the 90-room Hampton Inn and Suites under construction on the Olean Gateway site in North Olean.
“David Hart and Peter Krog, the developers of Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, are tonight returning the favor of county money used to finance the Chautauqua Lake destination by providing a multi-thousand-dollar party for my opponent in return for taxpayer dollars.” Morgan said. “These two developers are great men who are now tangled up in George Borrello’s web of mistakes, mismanagement and continued disregard for the rule of law.”
Under the county code of ethics cited by Morgan, county employees are barred from soliciting or accepting gifts of over $75 if the giver has had business with the county involving discretionary acts by the employee.
While Morgan called out the project’s receipt of government grants and a property tax abatement, it’s unknown how many of those benefits came from discretionary acts by Borrello.
Borrello sits as an ex-officio — non-voting — member of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which identified the project as a priority for the area. The state provided $1.9 million in aid for the project, as well as channelling $750,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant program for the redevelopment.
And while Chautauqua County is a party to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement for the project, the terms of such deals are typically negotiated by the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency. Borrello is not an official with the IDA, which is a stand-alone agency.
Through July, Borrello’s campaign has spent about four times as much as Morgan’s campaign has raised.
According to the July 15 periodic report, Morgan received $2,879.95 in contributions and $3,775 in miscellaneous receipts for a total of $6,654.95. Expenses during the period were $852.83. Borrello’s campaign, in the same reporting period, indicated a closing balance of just over $8,000. However, Borrello’s campaign included a primary bid against Allegany County Board of Legislators Chairman Curt Crandall, in which Borrello spent more than $28,000 campaigning for the GOP nomination.
The next mandated financial disclosure, the 32 Day Pre-General, is due to the state on Oct. 4.
The general election is Nov. 5.