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Sandy contractors donated to Nassau candidates

A crane consolidates debris from superstorm Sandy into

A crane consolidates debris from superstorm Sandy into a huge mound at Nickerson Beach, near Long Beach. (Nov. 23, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Firms that received emergency contracts from Nassau after superstorm Sandy have given at least $271,000 to Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's re-election campaign and $12,500 to Democratic candidate Thomas Suozzi, but nothing to Suozzi's primary opponent Adam Haber, an analysis of state and county records shows.

The contributions to Mangano came from 39 contracting companies -- or principals or affiliated companies -- identified in county records as receiving emergency Sandy work. The $271,138 they gave Mangano constituted 13 percent of the $2.04 million he raised between Oct. 29, 2012, when Sandy touched down, and July 11, when the most recent state filing period closed.

State Board of Elections records show that Suozzi received donations from five Sandy contractors, individuals connected to them or affiliated firms. Suozzi, who was county executive from 2002-09, has raised $1.5 million since entering the race this year, with the Sandy contractors contributing about 1 percent. He will face Haber, a retired businessman from East Hills who is largely funding his own campaign, in the Democratic primary Sept. 10.

Many storm contractors long have given to Long Island candidates from the party in power, Republican and Democrat.

It also is common for companies with municipal contracts to donate to campaigns around the time work is awarded, a campaign finance expert said.

"It does raise the question of whether contributors are buying influence," said Fordham University political science professor Costas Panagopoulos, head of the school's Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy. "It's a valid question to ask, but also a difficult one to answer. They could simply support the politician."

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the county executive "does not instruct anyone to donate or not donate funds," noting that there were "many" firms with Sandy work that did not give to the campaign. Nevin said some companies that did emergency work after Sandy, and gave to Mangano, first won county contracts during Suozzi's administration.

"These are lawful contributions and properly reported," Nevin said. "If campaign finance reform is the issue, we are all for it as long as it's a level playing field."

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, who backs Suozzi, said the distinction between donations to Mangano and Suozzi is that "Suozzi isn't county executive, so he can give them nothing. Nobody's going to say there's a quid pro quo. That makes it different."

To calculate campaign donations from Sandy firms, Newsday used a county financial document, obtained in April, that listed about 75 firms with storm-related contracts, ranging from $200 to $68.8 million. Newsday compared the list to state campaign finance filings and other public records to find donations by the firms or related holdings, as well as executives or family members with the same addresses.

Newsday obtained the list of Sandy contractors several months ago from legislative Democrats, who said they pulled it this spring from the Nassau Integrated Financial System, which tracks county expenditures. The document does not include every company hired over the course of Nassau's Sandy-recovery effort.

Top Sandy donors to Friends of Ed Mangano and Friends of Tom Suozzi between Oct. 28 and July 11 include:

Laser Industries, a Ridge construction company with a contract for as much as $5.7 million of storm repair work. Laser Properties West, which uses the same post office box, and principal Anthony Gulino gave Mangano $19,500 since January, including $15,000 for fundraiser "overhead." Calls to the company were not returned. Laser did not donate to Suozzi.

Grace Industries of Plainview, which has a contract for as much as $5 million in Sandy-related road and construction work in Nassau, gave Mangano $14,500 and a principal contributed $2,612 between December and May. The firm gave Suozzi $4,000 on April 24.

Bill Haugland, owner and chairman, said Grace has given to candidates of both parties for years. Donations to Mangano weren't connected to Sandy work, he said. Grace performed Sandy work across the region.

"I've never had a conversation with Ed Mangano about work," Haugland said. "A lot of times you just try to help guys that are hopefully going to generate business for your industry, whether it's [Suffolk District Attorney] Tom Spota, [Nassau DA] Kathleen Rice or Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano."

Edgewood Industries of Garden City, which has a $1.5 million cleanup contract with Nassau, gave $10,000 to Mangano and the firm's president, Frank Suppa, donated $7,000 between November and July. The Mangano campaign in February refunded $5,000 because it exceeded the limit of $5,000 per calendar year for corporate contributions. (Companies that are "limited liability corporations can donate up to $150,000 to candidates). Suppa, who did not return a call for comment, gave Suozzi $1,000 on May 19.

Looks Great Services, a Huntington debris removal firm, has the largest Sandy contract from Nassau: $68.8 million. President Kristian Agoglia gave the Mangano campaign $16,500 in January, including "in-kind" contributions other than cash, state records show. A Looks Great spokesman has said the contributions had nothing to do with its contracts, which are being investigated by local and state authorities over prevailing wage issues and how the contracts were awarded. The company says it has complied with local, state and federal rules. Looks Great did not give to Suozzi.

Pump & Motor Shop of Westbury was listed on the county financial document as having done $157,500 in storm repair work. Mangano received a total of $16,000 between February and May from the company and its vice president Gus Johanson, though $8,500 given under the firm name was refunded in March for exceeding the corporate donation limit. Neither the firm nor Johanson contributed to Suozzi.

Johanson said the work was done as part of a general contract with Nassau for all of its sewer pumps, motors and fans, and that the donations had nothing to do with Sandy.

"We're Republicans. There's really nothing more to it," Johanson said of the contributions to Mangano. "The storm had no effect on our business relationship with the county and the work we do for them."

Many of Mangano's largest donors, both among Sandy firms and in general, are longtime supporters of politicians and committees from both major parties, and also give to the county GOP Committee. Engineers Nelson & Pope of Melville, listed as having received $500,000 in Sandy work from Nassau, gave more than $200,000 to campaigns across the region between 2008 and 2012, including $3,750 to Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in 2011-12 and $15,000 to Mangano pre-Sandy, but nothing to Suozzi.

Intercounty Paving Associates of Hicksville, which has a $2 million Nassau Sandy road repair contract and gave $4,000 to Suozzi in April and $10,500 to Mangano between December and March, donated $10,000 earlier this month to Bellone.

Bill Mahoney, of the nonpartisan New York Public Interest Research Group, which studies campaign finance trends, said the amount of money that flowed in Nassau since Sandy shouldn't surprise anyone: "The people who can afford to write the biggest checks are usually those who have some interest before the county."

With Robert Brodsky, Celeste Hadrick and Adam Playford

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