The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 3, 2012

Local money fuels campaigns

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — While Election Day isn’t until Tuesday, scores of area residents have already voted — with their wallets.

A review of federal campaign records by The Daily Star shows that State University College at Oneonta President Nancy Kleniewski donated $250 to President Barack Obama’s campaign in August. She wrote a check to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign for the same amount last year.

Henry Cooper of Cooperstown, the chairman of the board of the environmental group Otsego 2000, donated $1,000 to Gillibrand’s campaign last year. Anthony J. Casale of Cooperstown, a consultant, former assemblyman and political strategist for the state Republican Party, donated $1,000 to Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, in three installments in August.

Records show that Gillibrand is evidently popular with several doctors at Bassett Medical Center.

Among those donating $1,000 each to her campaign were Dr. Carlos Bermejo,a urologist, and Henry Weil, assistant dean for medical education at a program Bassett has with Columbia University’s medical school.

Two other Bassett physicians, Peter van der Riet, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and Timothy Campbell, the medical center’s chief of radiation-oncology, donated $250 each to the senator, who polls say holds a lopsided advantage over GOP challenger Wendy Long, a Manhattan lawyer.

One of the region’s most prolific political donors, Cobleskill Village Mayor Mark Galasso, said people who donate to campaigns simply want to help their candidates get their message out in order to make the case that they deserve to be elected.

“I choose to be active in politics because I believe that in a democracy if you are not involved you get trampled,” said Galasso, who with his brother Martin oversees Lancaster Development Inc., a construction firm based in Richmondville. Federal campaign records show Mark Galasso has contributed more than $40,000 over the past dozen years to various candidates and political action committees.

Over the past two years, records show, Mark Galasso has contributed $3,500 to Gibson’s congressional campaign, and Martin Galasso  has sent the congressman’s campaign two donations totaling $1,500.

“I advocate for my beliefs and that’s why I’m involved both financially and with my time,” said Mark Galasso, a Republican who in the past has also contributed to Gillibrand.

When races are tight and campaigns are trying to push hard for a strong close on Election Day, the hat can be passed right up to the last minute.

On Friday, Melinda Hardin of Cooperstown, a board member of Planned Parenthood of South Central New York, said she was preparing to host an evening fundraiser in Cooperstown for Julian Schreibman of Ulster County, the Democrat running against Gibson in New York’s new 19th Congressional District.

Since June, Hardin has contributed $2,500 to Schreibman’s campaign in five installments, records show. Since June 2011, she has also supported Obama’s campaign to the tune of $4,975.

“I think the Republican Party has gone totally to the crazies,” said Hardin, noting she has been disenchanted by Gibson’s vote to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and supporting conservative Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge.

“Planned Parenthood of South Central New York doesn’t even do abortions,” said Hardin. Taking away federal funds from the organization, she said, “means women won’t get breast cancer screening and won’t get cervical screening.”

As for her involvement in raising money for candidates, Hardin said, “I honestly believe that if you have the time and can do it, there is nothing more important. The Supreme Court is an overriding concern with me.” She added: “If we get two more Scalia-like justices (a reference to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia) — it would just be unthinkable.”

Casale said he financially supports candidates he believes are qualified and who lack the personal wealth to finance their own campaigns.

“People of modest means ought to have the opportunity to run for office just like wealthy people do,” Casale said.

He said he wrote checks to Gibson’s campaign because the congressman is “hard-working and is one of those people who reaches across the aisle on a bipartisan basis to get things done. I’ve been impressed with his storm relief efforts and impressed with his work to bring broadband access to our rural areas. He recognizes that rural children are put at a major disadvantage in their education when there is no broadband service where they live.”

Casale said when he ran for public office nine times he never viewed campaign donations as anything but an expression of support, and donors were not looking for any favors in return. Now, he said, “all I want in return for my dollar is good, solid representation, and I get that from Chris Gibson.”

Among those who have raised money for Gillibrand have been Anne and Lang Keith of Fly Creek. They hosted a fundraiser at their home for the senator in August, attracting some 80 people and raising more than $20,000 for her campaign. A year earlier, they helped the senator raise some $36,000.

The couple said the events became opportunities for local residents to explain to Gillibrand why they are opposed to hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

“To the extent that a federal official has anything to do with fracking, she is on the right side of that,” Lang Keith said. “I think Kirsten Gillibrand is really doing a great job as a senator. She was very instrumental in getting the (military’s) ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ (prohibition against disclosing same-sex orientation) repealed, and she has been very interested in helping the dairy farmers around here.”

Lang Keith, a former state judge and county attorney in Virginia and current member of the Otsego Town Board, said he believes it is “absolutely important” for individual citizens to use their dollars to promote candidates in order to offset a cascade of money spent on elections by corporations and special interests.

“The Democrats have gotten very good at fundraising from individuals to counter the big money that the Republicans have,” Lang Keith said.