Dennis Vacco

Dennis C. Vacco

Vacco in March, 2015
62nd Attorney General of New York
In office
January 1, 1995  December 31, 1998
Governor George Pataki
Preceded by G. Oliver Koppell
Succeeded by Eliot Spitzer
United States Attorney for the Western District of New York
In office
President Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Preceded by Roger P. Williams
Succeeded by Patrick H. NeMoyer
Personal details
Born (1952-08-16) August 16, 1952
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Kelly Vacco
Children Alex, Connor
Residence Buffalo, New York
Alma mater Colgate University
University at Buffalo Law School
Profession Lawyer

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 bar in 1979.


Vacco was born in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in western New York State.

Political career

As Erie County Assistant District Attorney

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 New York State Attorney General

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

1994 election

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

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

In 1998, Vacco was defeated in his bid for re-election by future New York Governor 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

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 +.82
Republican Dennis Vacco (incumbent) 2,059,762 47.62 -1.66
Independence Catherine Abate 81,439 1.88 +1.07
Right to Life Robert W. Dapelo 60,399 1.40 -.36
Libertarian Daniel A. Conti, Jr. 19,864 .46 +.05
Green Johann L. Moore 18,984 .44
New York Attorney General Election 1994
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Karen S. Burstein 2,206,188 47.38 -1.90
Republican Dennis Vacco 2,294,528 49.28 0
Independence Thomas M. Hartman 37,500 0.81 -48.47
Right to Life Alfred I. Skidmore 85,649 1.84 -47.44
Libertarian Dan Conti 19,202 0.41 -48.86

Post-political career

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 New York, New England, and Canada. The New York Times raised the issue of his joining Waste Management in a "quid-pro-quo" arrangement. When Vacco was asked about the settlement and accepting a job with the same company, he replied that "I joined Waste Management because of the company's commitment to sound business practices and to being a good corporate citizen." In response to questions about the settlement and the job offer, he 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, Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, LLP.[9][10]


  1. Quindlen, Anna. "One Candidate's Lifestyle Becomes Other's Ax to Grind". Chicago Tribune. New York Times News Service. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  2. Opinion (October 12, 1994). "Guy Molinari, From the Gutter". New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  3. ISP guilty in child porn case,, New York, N.Y.: Conde Nast, 16 February 2001, Sheeres, J., Retrieved 11 November 2013
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 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". New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  6. "Collins adds 10 to transition team". Buffalo News\Berkshire Hathaway (Buffalo, N.Y.). 21 November 2007.
  7. "Collins adds 10 to transition team". McClatchy - Tribune Business News (Washington, D.C.). 21 November 2007.
  8. Cornell Smith, Kati. "Mob Boss' Son Boasted of 'Hook' in Albany". New York Post. Retrieved 25 April 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
Legal offices
Preceded by
G. Oliver Koppell
Attorney General of New York
Succeeded by
Eliot Spitzer
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