11642Lobbying panel probes railroad executive's Cooperstown fundraising activities
- Feb 8, 2006Lobbying panel probes railroad executive's Cooperstown fundraising activities
By JAY GALLAGHER
Albany Bureau chief
ALBANY — The state Lobbying Commission has asked for records from a
railroad executive and political fund-raiser as it probes whether any
laws were violated at a series of fundraisers in Cooperstown last
The panel is looking into the fundraising activities of Walter Rich,
head of the New York Susquehanna and Western Railway.
"They asked for a variety of information about events that we've
hosted revolving around the Baseball Hall of Fame induction
ceremonies," said Nathan Fenno, counsel to the railroad. "We've
provided them with everything they have asked for."
David Grandeau, executive director of the Lobbying Commission, said he
couldn't comment on whether the commission is investigating.
The state's lobbying laws prohibit a lobbyist or client from offering
or giving gifts valued at more than $75 per year to lawmakers or other
Rich has for years hosted fundraisers and other events during the
induction weekend at a property known as the Edgewater that the
railroad owns just down the street from the Hall of Fame.
Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, has held fundraisers there on the
induction weekend for several years, Seward spokesman Duncan Davie
Campaign-finance records show that Seward's campaign committee paid
the railroad $6,000 in December of 2005 for a fundraiser held in
Cooperstown 17 months earlier — in July 2004.
"We didn't get the bill until the first quarter of 2005, and then it
got mislaid," Davie said, when asked to explain the delay between the
event and the payment. "When it was retrieved in a file somewhere, we
paid the bill."
Davie said the railroad charges a per-person rate at the fundraiser,
for which Seward charged $60 a ticket. He said he didn't recall what
the rate was.
The railroad has gotten millions from Albany for track improvements
and other projects.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Thomas W. Libous,
R-Binghamton, said the railroad, like other recipients of state aid,
has to pay for the projects out of pocket before it is reimbursed by
Thomas O'Neil, a spokesman for the railroad, said the firm has
recently filed some amended campaign-finance reports to the state
Board of Elections. But he described the changes made from original
reports as just technical.
"To the best of my understanding, everything has been done in
accordance with the law," he said.
He said he didn't know what spurred the Lobbying Commission inquiry.
Rich and the Cooperstown fundraisers were mentioned in a 2004 report
done by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Inspector General Jill
Conviser-Levine about the awarding of a contract for development along
the Erie Canal that was later voided.
"Over the years, attendees have included politicians, government
officials, business executives, baseball greats, and guests' family
members," the report said of the Edgewater events. "The Susquehanna
Railroad provides lodging, lunches, dinners and tickets to baseball
games, at a cost to the company that Rich estimates at approximately
$100,000 per year. A significant feature of the weekend is a series of
fundraising events for both Republican and Democratic candidates for
The gifts could be questionable since they could have exceeded the $75
gift limit, the report states.