The Hicksville Republican Committee has grown rapidly from a small political club averaging $30,000 a year in contributions to a powerful organization that has raised nearly $800,000 since its leader became Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's top aide.
A Newsday analysis of state campaign finance records shows that the local committee, headed by Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, received $778,795 in donations from mid-2010 through 2013, after raising only $152,149 in the previous five years.
Almost two-thirds of the 48 companies or their principals that have given the Hicksville club at least $3,000 since mid-2010 have done business with the county in that period, state and county records show.
Walker's club has now received more money since mid-2010 than any of the 68 other hamlet, village and city GOP organizations in Nassau. Those clubs' average annual take was $28,000, while the Hicksville club raised $39,000 in just three weeks after Mangano's November re-election.
Walker, 39, is a former state assemblyman from Hicksville whose mother, Rose, is a Nassau County legislator and whose late father, John, led the Hicksville West Republican club. In 2009, Walker ran Mangano's underdog county executive bid, and became his chief deputy in 2010.
Despite his position with the county, Walker said he's never asked for donations to Hicksville's committee and doesn't keep track of the donors with Nassau contracts.
"I'd be lying if I said that some of these people didn't have business with the county," Walker said of Hicksville contributors. "But at the end of the day, people do or don't donate, and one thing doesn't have to do with the other."
The rapid rise of Hicksville's club has sparked talk in party circles that Walker is trying to build his own network of influence apart from that of longtime Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello.
One party source said Nassau GOP leaders have "taken notice" of Walker's activity; another said it seemed "obvious" Walker is making a statement about his fundraising ability.
But Walker said he and Mangano get along well with Mondello and other GOP leaders. He said his club's receipts only spiked because he began to focus fundraising efforts there rather than his Assembly committee after leaving the office.
That Assembly committee raised about $383,000 between mid-2005 and mid-2009, state elections records show.
"People like to create the internal problems -- they want to create the myth Ed Mangano is against Joe Mondello," Walker said. "That couldn't be further from the truth."
Mondello and Mangano declined to comment.
Changes in fundraising
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily with Republicans, said Hicksville's rise highlights a shift in fundraising trends over the last 20 years. While party organizations once controlled patronage and contracts, elected heads of county and local governments now have more power.
"The party in power will still raise money, but the executives really have become the superstars," Dawidziak said. "And a local club with no ties to these executives probably no longer raises as much money."
Although the Nassau County Republican Committee still takes in far more than Walker's -- about $3 million a year -- the Hicksville committee has eclipsed the large town GOP organizations in fundraising. Hempstead Republicans have raised about $648,000 since mid-2010, the Oyster Bay GOP, $577,000, and North Hempstead Republicans, about $205,000, records show.
Other smaller clubs run by Mondello's top party aides and closest allies -- for years the county's leading local-level party fundraisers -- also have trailed Hicksville recently.
The North Valley Stream committee run by Nassau OTB President Joseph Cairo has collected $595,660 since mid-2010. The East Rockaway committee run by Mondello spokesman and Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony Santino took in $425,814.
"I don't see anyone else's fundraising as any kind of statement," Cairo said. "The difference now is the position he [Walker] is in. I don't have deaf ears, but I really don't concern myself with other areas."
Santino said: "We work hard in East Rockaway and we're proud of our success."
Hicksville's top individual donor since mid-2010 is Keith Lizza, an executive with his family's Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving. He contributed a total of $53,500 in 2012 and 2013. Aly Lizza, another company executive, gave $45,000 in 2012, the same day Keith gave $45,000.
Carlo Lizza & Sons, which is based in Hicksville, had a $4.9 million road resurfacing contract with Nassau last year, and roadwork contracts of $8 million in 2012 and $11 million in 2011, county records show.
The company didn't respond to requests for comment, and neither Aly Lizza, of Oyster Bay, nor Keith Lizza, of Jericho, returned messages.
James Hagedorn, chief executive of Scott's Miracle-Gro, is the next-highest individual donor, giving $50,000 to the Hicksville club in April 2012.
Hagedorn, of Port Washington, is secretary of Friends of Sands Point Preserve, a nonprofit that operates the county park. He didn't respond to a call Friday. But he told Newsday in 2012 his donation had nothing to do with ensuring Friends' county agreement to run the preserve -- which began in 2003 -- continued.
"I like Walker. I like working with him," Hagedorn said in explaining his donation.
In just the three weeks after Mangano's re-election last fall, when Hicksville raised $39,000, it collected $4,500 each from Brooks Wallace, whose Mississippi cleanup firm, Debristech, had a $1 million contract with Nassau for superstorm Sandy cleanup work, and Kirk Lombardi, whose Hauppauge trucking company did $90,000 in Sandy work for the county. The law firm Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West, headquartered in Providence, R.I., gave $3,000 to the Hicksville GOP and has received $900,000 in work from Nassau since 2012, primarily for representation during the bidding for the Nassau Coliseum redevelopment.
Wallace, Lombardi and partners from the Pannone firm -- all of whom have also donated to Mangano's county executive re-election campaign -- did not return several requests for comment in recent weeks.
Several political experts said donors to the Hicksville GOP likely make a connection between the club and the Mangano administration -- even if Walker doesn't promote it.
"There doesn't have to be a quid pro quo," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the nonpartisan New York Public Interest Research Group. "But clearly, given the way American democracy works, people wouldn't be forking over money if they didn't think they got something in return."
Stanley Klein, an LIU Post political science professor and a Suffolk GOP committeeman, said "most people who give sizable amounts of money expect something in return. It's just like a parent and child. If papa gives you money, he expects you to follow suggestions."
Dems allege Mangano ties
In three complaints filed between 2012 and this year with the state Board of Elections, Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs called the Hicksville committee a channel for donations to Mangano's campaign. He calls the club a source of frequent unreported contributions to Mangano, and said county contractors donate to Hicksville only to curry favor with Walker and Mangano.
As an indication of the relationship between Walker and Mangano, Jacobs cited the Hicksville committee's expenditures dated March 7 and 13, 2012, and labeled for a golf fundraiser in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Mangano's campaign also listed expenditures to vendors based in Myrtle Beach on March 1 and 3, 2012 for a golf fundraiser it held there.
"They take companies and individuals who benefit . . . financially from county government, and get them to contribute to an entity that won't be obvious in its connection to the county executive," Jacobs said of the Hicksville club.
Walker denies the allegation. Records show that the club's campaign finance filings have never listed direct payments to the Friends of Ed Mangano re-election campaign.
Walker said the bulk of the club's donations go to pay for an annual golf event at Bethpage State Park. Records show the club has spent $692,787 since mid-2010, and that the largest payments were labeled fundraiser expenses, many at Bethpage, and as consultant fees, the bulk of which went to KKL Associates, of Westbury.
Jacobs' complaints allege that the KKL payments, totaling more than $140,000 since 2012, were to benefit a former county employee with ties to Walker, and that the payments sometimes used a residential address in Hicksville instead of the one in Westbury.
Walker says that KKL did "legitimate" event planning work for fundraisers, and that the former employee did not improperly receive any funds.
"People can say what they want, but we're doing the same thing we always have," Walker said, noting that Hicksville's Bethpage golf fundraiser previously had been held to benefit his state Assembly campaign. "It's the same event. We just moved it over."
Jacobs' state complaints also cite a luxury skybox at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey that the Hicksville committee purchased for $204,000 in 2012, shortly after Hagedorn and the Lizzas gave in large amounts.
Jacobs said the box was meant to directly support Mangano's 2013 re-election campaign, but Walker responded that the box was used only for fundraising activities at New York Giants games and other events that directly benefited his club, not Mangano.
But Walker said he didn't renew the skybox in 2013 because of the attention it drew.
"It wasn't worth the headache," he said.
The state Board of Elections has not yet acted on any of Jacobs' Hicksville complaints.