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Candidates show how they're bankrolled

Christopher C. Collins has insisted he will not use his extensive personal funds to finance his campaign for county executive.

But that pledge apparently does not extend to the companies in which the Clarence Republican has major holdings, which so far have contributed $60,500, according to records of the state Board of Elections.

James P. Keane, a Buffalo Democrat, boasts of a large and diverse donor base that reflects Erie County voters. Yet his top financial supporter is Albany attorney Jerry A. Weiss, who has donated $19,237 personally while his law firm gave $25,000.

Those are just some of the highlights of the candidates' campaign finance disclosures as Keane, West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark and former Mayor James D. Griffin gear up for the Sept. 18 Democratic primary and Collins readies for the Nov. 6 general election.

Keane, Clark and Collins point to their campaign totals as evidence of their strength (Griffin did not raise funds by the July 15 reporting deadline), and all are working to collect even more for an effort many observers say will top $1 million each.

While Keane has regularly sparred with Clark, the reports now are fueling Keane's first attacks across party lines at Collins. Donald A. Van Every, Keane's spokesman, said the Collins financial disclosure shows the GOP candidate is self-financing his effort through his various companies and that a broad donor base has yet to materialize.

Factoring in a $25,000 contribution from the Erie County Republican Party, Van Every said 35 percent of Collins' funds come from the candidate's companies or the party.

"How does that show he's a people's candidate?" Van Every asked. "Jim Keane has 1,600 unique donors; Chris Collins has less than 200."

Collins' report lists contributions from several of his companies, including $28,000 from Buckler Biotechnology Capital Group, $6,000 from Cobblestone Enterprises, $5,000 from each of five other companies, and $750 from each of two others. Collins spent $500,000 of his own money in 1998 in an unsuccessful challenge to then-Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda.

But Christopher M. Grant, Collins' spokesman, noted that the candidate always has said his various companies would invest in his campaign. Keane's attack on Collins, while engaged in a competitive primary, shows Keane is "frightened," Grant said.

"[Collins] is working with his partners, who are excited and enthused to be part of the campaign because they know first hand that Chris Collins will come in and fix Erie County the same way he's been successful in these businesses," Grant said.

He added that Keane's contributors represent "special interests and political bosses," while Collins' are "nontraditional givers."

Weiss, the source of Keane's heftiest contributions, is an Albany fixture with close ties to major political figures such as former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

Weiss contributed $17,500 of his own money to Keane and sponsored a $1,737 party for him at Albany's Fort Orange Club. In addition, his law firm of Hiscock and Barclay (in which Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski is a partner) contributed another $25,000.

Weiss, who according to the Hiscock and Barclay Web site concentrates on public finance practice, is an adviser to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

Van Every said Weiss became involved because Keane's brother-in-law, State Supreme Court Justice Gerald J. Whalen, formerly worked for Hiscock and Barclay. He described Weiss' extraordinary contributions as "nothing we should be embarrassed about."

"We're talking about having a relationship with Albany," Van Every said of Weiss. "We want the Legislature to see Jim Keane as a partner."

Weiss would not elaborate.

"I reserve the right to support the candidates of my choosing, and he is of my choosing," he said. "And that's my statement to you."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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