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The Erie County Democratic Party is suddenly awash in cash, thanks to unprecedented contributions from national and state party sources.

The newest financial reports filed with the Erie County Board of Elections show that the $85,000 influx paid off all the debts from the 2000 campaign, with about $58,000 left over.

And though Washington sources describe a $50,000 contribution from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as highly unusual, county Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon says the largest single contribution to the local party in memory is a testament to its growth. Three contributions from the state Democratic Party in October and November enriched party coffers by another $35,000.

"I think it's something to be proud of, and you'll see more," Pigeon said. "It's a sign we're really on the radar screen of the national party."

But the national Democratic contribution raises some eyebrows because it stems from the congressional campaign committee, the national fund-raising organization for Democratic congressional candidates. Normally this money targets the tightest congressional races.

"It's definitely odd," said Larry Mackinson of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign spending. "There's no real logical explanation I can give for that."

Other Washington experts on campaign financing also call the $50,000 influx unusual, pointing out the funding is usually earmarked for specific purposes in congressional campaigns. Pigeon acknowledges there are no strings attached to the congressional campaign committee money, which he plans to use for party-building activities.

In addition, the funds did not arrive at Democratic Headquarters until well after the November election.

Locally, Republican incumbents Jack F. Quinn Jr. of Hamburg and Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence ran well-financed campaigns against relatively non-competitive opponents in 2000. And the area's sole Democratic incumbent, Rep. John J. LaFalce of the Town of Tonawanda, also scored an overwhelming victory in a campaign easily financed through his own efforts.

LaFalce said Friday he did not request the money, adding that questions are being raised in the Democratic caucus about the effectiveness of campaign spending during the 2000 cycle.

"We don't know if this money was spent wisely, spent terribly, or somewhere in between," LaFalce said. "This raises questions about why this money was received after the election.

"I think this would be best spent on the 2002 congressional races," he added.

But Eric Smith, a congressional campaign committee spokesman, said the sizable contributions stemmed from record fund-raising. Congressional Democrats raised $94 million in 2000, he said, compared to $37 million in 1998.

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