Election campaign time is money-raising time, and this year's Erie County Legislature candidates are accumulating and spending more than previously.
The lead, so far, is held by Dr. Barry Weinstein, an Amherst physician who invested $68,941 to win the Republican primary in the 15th District, according to the most recent fund-raising filings.
Randi Cohen Kennedy, the Democratic incumbent, had spent $14,574 so far.
"To do what I want to do as far as mailings, I need another $20,000," said Ms. Cohen Kennedy, a lawyer who won the seat from a Republican two years ago.
Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, predicted that when all reports are in after the Nov. 4 election, the campaign in the 15th District in Amherst will have cost collectively more than $100,000.
"It's beyond me how people will pay $100,000 for an election for a job that pays $42,000," he said. "It's becoming a rich person's game. The money I see in legislative campaigns in 1997 is way beyond anything I've ever seen."
Swanick, campaigning for the 10th time himself, said asking for money is the hardest thing legislators do.
"You have to ask your friends, family, some people you move through life with," Swanick said. "Most of us don't like to ask. We'd prefer to be self-sufficient. I don't know a legislator in Erie County who doesn't have a difficult time with the whole thing, not just raising the money, but asking people to contribute."
Swanick's most recent report showed a balance of $6,125.
In West Seneca, John W. Greenan, the Republican incumbent, had $30,303 on hand as of mid-September for what looks like a competitive race with Kathleen Higgins-Greeley, his Democratic opponent.
"The way I raise most of my money is strictly going to friends and asking them to contribute," Greenan said. "I ask them by mail; I send them tickets; and I call them on my phone. Typically, if I am calling a business person, I explain need for changing Erie County, and I believe I can be part of that change, and I ask for their financial assistance in making that change. I start at $100, and I work my way down."
Greenan also uses palm cards, the small cards candidates hand out at gatherings or when they campaign door-to-door.
"On the bottom of my palm card, there is a spot where you can volunteer to work in my campaign, put up a sign or make a contribution," he said. "It's the first year I've done it, and it's been effective. I probably raised about $1,000 that way."
Names of some individuals and corporations show up on most of the GOP filings, and others appear regularly on the Democratic filings. Ronald E. Bennett, a former county legislator from the Southtowns, gives to Republicans.
"It costs money to campaign," Bennett said. "Today, the mailings are important."
Three Democratic incumbents in Buffalo each spent $14,000 to $20,000 to beat back challengers in the primary. In the 4th District, a strip from the Peace Bridge area to north of Delaware Park, incumbent Judith Fisher reported outlays of $14,404, three times more than those of her opponent.
Gregory Olma spent $17,937 on his bid to continue to represent the 5th District, extending from the East Side into Cheektowaga. He raised $500 or more from union groups, including the Buffalo Teachers Federation action committee.
Albert DeBenedetti spent $18,207 to hold on to the seat for the 6th District, which consists of Riverside, Black Rock and part of North Buffalo.
The Democratic list of significant contributors include members of County Executive Gorski's administration and of county employees unions, Ms. Cohen Kennedy said.
Bennett is not so sure that big money is always necessary.
"Sure, you can spend a lot, but people aren't foolish," he said. "They look at the candidates themselves. The incumbent always has the advantage if he's attended to the needs of his people."