SAFE Act stirs campaign rhetoric but not campaign treasuries in sheriff’s race - The Buffalo News
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SAFE Act stirs campaign rhetoric but not campaign treasuries in sheriff’s race

The robust give-and-take over New York’s new gun-control law may have ratcheted up the campaign rhetoric, but it has not made much of a difference to the campaign treasuries of those running for Erie County sheriff, a Buffalo News analysis of campaign filings shows.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard in May filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act. And Howard’s public stance at the time – “I won’t enforce it” – caused a stir.

The following month, Howard received more in campaign contributions – $52,786 – than in any other month of his re-election campaign. But that is just $862 more than how much Howard received in the June before his successful 2009 re-election bid.

Howard collected $163,576 in campaign contributions between June 1 and Oct. 20 of this year, nearly $8,000 more than during the same period in 2009.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, the sheriff has collected $223,441 in campaign contributions. That’s up $31,052 from the $192,389 he collected during the same period in 2009. The biggest increases in his fundraising happened in the earlier months of this year’s campaign. Howard received nearly $60,000 from January to May of this year, compared with $36,653 from the same period in 2009.

“I’ve seen no impact one way or the other,” said Syracuse political consultant Jack Cookfair, a consultant for the Howard campaign, on the influence of the SAFE Act.

“Tim has always said what’s on his mind,” Cookfair said. “It hasn’t been part of our fundraising effort, I know that.”

Some Howard supporters, however, cited the SAFE Act as they sought to raise money for the sheriff’s campaign.

Three members of the Sheriff’s Office Reserve Division sent a fundraising appeal to other reserve members.

“Not one, but two opponents have aligned themselves with the liberal media and pro-SAFE Act groups that will do and say anything to defeat our friend, Sheriff Howard,” according to the letter signed by Joseph Savarese, Gerald B. Buchheit and Gregory Butcher.

“We can’t stop the New York City Liberals from sending their cash to take away our Constitutional Rights but we can fight back by standing tall together to ensure Tim Howard remains our Sheriff for the next 4 years,” they wrote in the Sept. 27 letter.

The reserve division has about 120 members.

Howard, a Republican, faces Democrat Richard E. Dobson and minor party candidate Bert D. Dunn.

Campaign finance filings show Dunn has spent $315,591 on his bid to become sheriff, compared with $204,233 spent by Howard and $67,575 by Dobson.

Dunn, running on the Law and Order party line, has paid bills totaling $189,000 since his Primary Day loss to Dobson. But these expenses also include those incurred during his primary election effort. So not all of the bills he has recently paid are necessarily for the “I’m Bert Dunn and I’m not done yet” television ads on the airwaves or his signs and billboards along highways.

Dunn has received contributions totaling $37,461. So most of what he has spent is his own money. Dobson has raised $72,808 in contributions, according to state Board of Elections filings.

Howard’s re-election campaign four years ago cost roughly a quarter of a million dollars. His campaign this year will cost about the same.

“I know the TV advertising is almost exactly the same,” Cookfair said.

The Howard campaign prepared two different TV ads, one focusing on Howard’s record and the other a testimonial from State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, the former Erie County sheriff.

Despite how much Dunn has spent, his self-funded candidacy has not prodded Howard to adjust his campaign plan, Cookfair said. “We haven’t changed anything,” he said. “The campaign plan was put together in midsummer, and we’ve followed it without deviation.

“The only thing that would have changed our plan was if the tone of the others’ advertising had changed, if somebody goes after you for something,” Cookfair said. “That may call for a rebuttal. Nothing they said forced us to respond.”

Dunn previously told The News that he rejected the idea of attack ads.

He also told The News that the notoriety Howard has received from his refusal to enforce the state’s new gun-control law has unnecessarily dominated the campaign.

Regarding Howard’s position on the SAFE Act, Dunn said, “Who cares? What’s it got to do with leading the Sheriff’s Office? The job is to lead the people working there and manage the budget and services.”


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