Dennis Vacco

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Dennis C. Vacco
62nd Attorney General of New York
In office
January 1, 1995 – December 31, 1998
GovernorGeorge Pataki
Preceded byOliver Koppell
Succeeded byEliot Spitzer
United States Attorney for the Western District of New York
In office
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Preceded byRoger P. Williams
Succeeded byPatrick H. NeMoyer
Personal details
Born (1952-08-16) August 16, 1952 (age 68)
Buffalo, New York U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Kelly Vacco
ResidenceBuffalo, New York
Alma materColgate University (B.A.)
University at Buffalo (J.D.)

Dennis C. Vacco (born August 16, 1952) is an American lawyer and politician. He graduated with a B.A. from Colgate University in 1974, a J.D. from the University at Buffalo Law School in 1978, and was admitted to the New York State bar in 1979. He is to date the last Republican to serve as New York Attorney General.


Vacco was born in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in the western region of upstate New York.

Political career[edit]

As Erie County Assistant District Attorney[edit]

Vacco was an Assistant District Attorney of Erie County, New York from 1978 to 1988, and United States Attorney for the Western District of New York from 1988 until the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993.

As Attorney General of New York[edit]

Vacco was the Attorney General of New York from January 1, 1995 to December 31, 1998.

1994 election[edit]

In 1994, Vacco defeated Karen Burstein, the Democratic nominee. One week before the election, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari announced that Burstein was not qualified to serve as attorney general because she was a lesbian. The combination of Molinari's remarks, a strong national Republican showing, and the win of George Pataki in the governor's race, led to Vacco narrowly defeating Burstein.[1] The New York Times called Molinari's remarks, "gutter politics."[2]

Selected cases[edit]

Vacco brought national attention through a series of prosecutions brought against internet service providers, including Dreamscape Online, for distributing child pornography. The principal defendant, Buffnet, eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of fourth degree facilitation of a felony and was fined $5,000.[3]

Vacco played a prominent role in New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's attempt to require Time Warner Cable to carry the Fox News Channel. An attempt by Vacco to bring an anti-trust violation charge against Time-Warner failed.

As attorney general, Vacco also argued the landmark assisted suicide case Vacco v. Quill before the United States Supreme Court. He successfully defended the state's ban on the practice, winning the case by a 9–0 vote.

1998 Election[edit]

In 1998, Vacco was defeated in his bid for re-election by Democrat Eliot Spitzer, by a margin of approximately 0.6% of the votes cast.[4] He was the first attorney general in New York since 1925 to not be re-elected to a second term.

Electoral history[edit]

Dennis Vacco (Seated on main stage, front, far left end) at 1996 Dole-Kemp Rally at the University at Buffalo, N.Y.

Vacco's electoral history has been tracked, online, at Our Campaigns, and it has been reflected here.[4]

New York Attorney General election, 1998
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Eliot Spitzer 2,084,948 48.20
Republican Dennis Vacco (incumbent) 2,059,762 47.62
Independence Catherine Abate 81,439 1.88
Right to Life Robert W. Dapelo 60,399 1.40
Libertarian Daniel A. Conti, Jr. 19,864 0.46
Green Johann L. Moore 18,984 0.44
New York Attorney General election, 1994
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Dennis Vacco 2,294,528 49.28
Democratic Karen S. Burstein 2,206,188 47.38
Right to Life Alfred I. Skidmore 85,649 1.84
Independence Thomas M. Hartman 37,500 0.81
Libertarian Dan Conti 19,202 0.41
  • Nancy Rosenstock also received 13,416 votes (0.29%) for the Socialist Workers Party in this election.[4]
  • Vacco also ran on both the Conservative Party of New York and Tax Cut Now tickets in this election.[4]

Post-political career[edit]

Less than two months after he concluded an antitrust settlement with Waste Management, Inc., a waste disposal conglomerate, as one of his last acts before leaving his position as attorney general, Vacco joined Waste Management as a senior lobbyist and vice president for government affairs for their operations in New York, New England, and Canada. In response to questions about the settlement and the job offer, Vacco said: "Any interpretation or suggestion that this settlement - which included the United States Department of Justice - was connected to my employment by Waste Management - is preposterous and false."[5]

As a lobbyist in New York State, Vacco was identified as having made inconsistencies in required filings.[6][7] In April 2006, after a six-month investigation, Vacco was cleared of allegations that he violated lobbying regulations. The investigation "centered on whether Vacco’s firm had an illegal contingency-fee contract with a Rochester businessman in exchange for helping him win a casino deal with an Oklahoma tribe." In October 2005, Vacco’s lobbying firm agreed to pay the state $50,000 in connection with the questionable contract, but it was not required to admit wrongdoing."[8]

Vacco is currently a partner in the Buffalo, New York law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, LLP.[9][10]

In 2017, Vacco unsuccessful defended controversial Buffalo School Board member, Carl Paladino after his employment was terminated for misuse of confidential information and making what many called racist comments about former president Barack Obama during a magazine interview. After a hearing before the New York State education committee, it was determined that the Buffalo School Board had the right to terminate Carl Paladino’s employment, no further legal action was taken by either parties involved.


  1. ^ Quindlen, Anna. "One Candidate's Lifestyle Becomes Other's Ax to Grind". Chicago Tribune. New York Times News Service. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  2. ^ Opinion (October 12, 1994). "Guy Molinari, From the Gutter". The New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  3. ^ ISP guilty in child porn case,, New York, N.Y.: Conde Nast, 16 February 2001, Sheeres, J., Retrieved 11 November 2013
  4. ^ a b c d e Vacco, Dennis, Our Campaigns, 1998 & 1994, Retrieved 8 January 2014.
  5. ^ Levy, Clifford (February 19, 1999). "Vacco to Start Private Life As Lobbyist For a Hauler". The New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  6. ^ "Collins adds 10 to transition team". Buffalo News\Berkshire Hathaway (Buffalo, N.Y.). November 21, 2007. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ "Collins adds 10 to transition team". McClatchy - Tribune Business News (Washington, D.C.). November 21, 2007. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. ^ Cornell Smith, Kati. "Mob Boss' Son Boasted of 'Hook' in Albany". New York Post. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  9. ^ Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, LLP: Business Experience: Dennis Vacco,, Buffalo, N.Y., Retrieved 11 November 2013
  10. ^ Watchdog report: Vacco's work on LDCs costs $167k, Democrat and, Buffalo, N.Y.: Gannett, 8 November 2013, Riley, D., Retrieved 11 November 2013

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
G. Oliver Koppell
Attorney General of New York
Succeeded by
Eliot Spitzer