While the much of nation has been firmly distracted by the many minor (and some major) side issues involving the 2016 presidential candidates, matters of far more immediate concern continue unabated. At the international level there is the Philippines and the South China Sea, to say nothing of Russia and ISIS. More regional and local, there are the ripples from the latest round of corruption charges and the lingering question of what finally will be the issue to take down NY Governor Andrew Cuomo. Yet, while these and other situations are battling for the attention of the political junkies and voters, millions of New Yorkers are in the dark on an internal battle being waged right now.
The first glimpse of the issue appeared relatively quietly in an article on WBEN out of Buffalo, NY, in late September. An allegation was raised, by Budd Schroeder. He is the Chairman of Shooters Committee ON Political Education (SCOPE NY), a pro-Second Amendment organization created in 1965. Since 2013, SCOPE NY has been probably best known for its lawsuits fighting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hastily enacted NY SAFE Act.
It was SCOPE NY that helped in Amicus Brief to the US Supreme Court in getting attention to the magazine limit component of the SAFE Act which was thrown out, due to NYSRPA vs. Cuomo (New York State Rifle & Pistol Association = NYSRPA). It was this same organization that is helping as a co-plaintiff in Robinson vs. Lynch, fighting the federal governments use of NICS data. It also helped in drawing attention to Robinson vs. Cuomo, where that win in the courts revealed the actual compliance numbers provided to the public – over the objections of the Cuomo Administration. An objection that proved to be an attempt to obscure the truth, when it was found that a mere 25,000 firearm owners had engaged the law by June 2015. By contrast, some 5 million New Yorkers are believed to be firearm owners, with at least 1 million rifles (alone) that fall under the SAFE Act legislation.
But it was Chairman Schroeder, in an unexpected disclosure, who spoke on the airways to describe an internal battle in SCOPE NY. He said on WBEN that,
“For months, the exact nature of these expenditures have been concealed to me. I have come to learn the nature of some of these transactions, which seem to include a number of personal expenditures, with the sum of at least a couple thousand dollars.”
While the public disclosure was unauthorized and came as a surprise to many gun owners and members of SCOPE NY, it was not a new revelation. The fact was that since January 2016, there were questions within SCOPE. These questions were evident during the April election meeting, and again in July when an additional round of elections took place. The result has been confusion and pending legal action that continues at this time.
Several prominent questions are raised by the recognition of an internal battle. The most prominent has to be if SCOPE NY will continue to exist? When asked during research for this article, all sources confirmed that SCOPE NY will continue to exist and carry on in its mission to protect the Second Amendment rights for residents of New York State.
Equally important is the question of lawsuits that are pending or ongoing. Depending on the source asked, the consensus of sources agree that the internal battle should be resolved prior to the next term of the NYS Legislature. Thus far, no lawsuit nor court case has been affected. With the NYS Legislature out until 2017, there is no political schedule or issues that require action at this time.
But SCOPE has lost several key figures due to the internal battle. Paloma Capanna, who had been the Director of Legal Affairs for SCOPE since 2014, has left the organization – efforts to find a replacement are under way. Perhaps more notably, Stephen Aldstadt, the former president of SCOPE also has left the organization. Exactly when Mr. Aldstadt ceased to hold that position, is part of the internal debate along with the question of potential improper expenditures. Some believe that leadership of SCOPE changed in July, others say September 18, 2016 when Mr. Aldstadt submitted his written resignation.
Virtually all confidential sources that requested not to be named state that some degree of improper use of funds may have occurred. Most state that the amounts were minor, a fraction to the annual operating budget of SCOPE, accumulated over several years. Still there are those in the organization that find any misuse of funds to be a devastating act of betrayal, as was stated to us. Yet, the consensus believe that no legal action will be sought, and stress that a final audit of finances is still underway and may yet prove this question to be a misunderstanding.
Stephen Aldstadt was contacted via phone on this matter, on September 22, 2016. For the record, Mr. Aldstadt vehemently denies any wrong-doing, and believes that the results of the final audit will vindicate him. Further, he indicated that the allegations against him are just a pretext. He also said,
“While the organization’s work continues, endangered or not, it will continue without me. SCOPE NY has had a policy of paying $0.50/mile for official business, so over the years rather than submitting for $0.50/mile, when I took my own vehicle instead of paying the bill for $100 or $200 or so I simply put gas in the tank. So this is the kind of thing they’ve been holding up and making allegations I’ve used it for my personal expense. The allegations made against me are unfounded. It’s basically a smear campaign, mostly vague accusations and it’s absolutely not true.”
We also contacted Mike Mastrogiovanni Sr., who identified himself as the First Vice President of SCOPE NY. He confirmed that many of the elected leadership positions within the organization are under some degree of question at this time. He was among the sources confirming that SCOPE NY will continue to exist, and maintain its mission of preserving the 2nd Amendment. His public comments included,
“SCOPE is here. SCOPE is going to get through these hiccups. We’re here to do the service that we’ve done for the members and we’re going to continue on with the fight. The elections are coming, we’re going to keep everyone informed the best we can.
[To the question of ongoing operations potentially being disrupted] I’m not a lawyer and I’m not a politician. To the best of my knowledge, no, because right now they [NYS Legislature] haven’t been in session all summer and they are out campaigning and they haven’t put out the legislative agenda yet.”
In addition we spoke with Tom Reynolds for this article. He is listed on the SCOPE NY website as the current President, but like Mr. Mastrogiovanni acknowledges the internal dispute of several elected positions. Mr. Reynolds was another source that confirmed that the organization will continue in its operations, but that several changes will be coming. Changes to the website, Facebook, as well as a rededication to the mission of the organization that was disrupted due to the internal dispute. He also said,
“We have not been focusing anywhere near as much as we should have been on the election, on moving it forward. The internal divisions do not help. And frankly we don’t believe there is a criminal matter there [question of misuse of funds].
We’ve got 7,000 members, it’s a statewide organization. We’re well positioned. We just have to settle these internal issues and we are hoping that will happen very shortly. I anticipate we will be prepared for the new legislative session.”
Many confidential sources we spoke with feel that overall this internal dispute is part of the growth of SCOPE. Since the NY SAFE Act was enacted, SCOPE has tripled in size of membership and budget. That sudden and substantial growth – recognized by all sides as part of the efforts of Mr. Aldstadt as much as due to the nature of the law being fought – while focused on the Second Amendment may eventually expand to other related issues and in co-operation with other State and national organizations. That growth was also highlighted as a key to the need to address the structure of the chapters of the organization. Thus the internal dispute is not as much a question of use of funds as much as it is a question of what the future will be.
Internal battles for leadership and the direction that any organization will take in the future is always messy and complicated. Normally these situations are kept quiet and very little is revealed to the public until well after all the dust settles. That didn’t happen entirely in this case. But even with the rumors and curiosity of member and the public all sides inside SCOPE NY note that like a storm, this will pass.
** Correction – As per the request of Paloma Capanna, the exact court cases referenced and her exact position in SCOPE NY, has been updated. **