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Republican congressional candidate Christopher C. Collins transforms a low-key campaign into a high-energy effort today with the debut of television commercials financed by almost half a million dollars of his personal funds.

Collins said he has contributed $497,000 of his own money to a campaign that has now raised $705,000 in an effort to build early name recognition and leverage at least $300,000 in new contributions from citizens and political action committees.

"I said we'd have a million dollar campaign and we're going to have one," Collins said Friday. "We're for real."

Collins, who acknowledges a hefty fortune from the sale of the Wheatfield gear business he once owned, said the personal contribution demonstrates his commitment to dethroning Democratic Rep. John J. LaFalce of the Town of Tonawanda, a 24-year incumbent. For the first time, Collins said, LaFalce will be forced to defend himself against an opponent backed by similar finances.

"Nobody ever ran against John because of the money factor," he said. "The best way to send the message this race is for real is to level the playing field. The message will be out."

The Collins ads were produced by Michael J. Hook, a former Lancaster resident and aide to Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, now operating a Washington political consulting firm. The 30-second spots will air during newscasts every day between now and Election Day, he said, with the first buy costing "six figures."

The first ads are designed to promote his background as a business owner who provided jobs in Niagara County, with other themes to follow.

"I'm running this campaign like I would for a new product, and I'm the new product," he said.

Collins, 47, is running on many of the same themes employed by challengers William E. Miller Jr. and David B. Callard in 1992, 1994 and 1996. He will stress traditional Republican issues such as less government interference, term limits and lowering taxes. But he also stresses he will have the money to disseminate the message.

Collins said he does not expect to infuse any more of his funds into the campaign, but anticipates that the healthy balance of $560,000 in his account will grab the attention of those who realize the importance of funding a credible campaign.

"In Washington, they don't ask where the money came from, or care that it came from my personal checking account," he said. "This is my way of sending a message to Washington and the local community that I've done my part."

Meanwhile, Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon has accused Collins of violating state election law by filing a false document with
the state Board of Elections, and has asked District Attorney Frank J. Clark to investigate the matter. Pigeon claims Collins backers filed false documents authorizing him to be the candidate of the Independence Party this fall, when the state organization actually backed LaFalce.

But Collins said the matter has been "blown out of proportion," explaining that he was originally endorsed by the party's Erie County leaders before the state party went with LaFalce. He also said the party encouraged him to circulate petitions in the event LaFalce failed to obtain enough signatures to qualify.

Collins maintains the signatures on the documents authorizing an Independence candidacy is "Independence Party business."

I have nothing to do with that," he said.

He also said his organization will still attempt to qualify for the Independence line in November through a write-in effort on Primary Day.

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