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DONATIONS RISE AS ELECTION DAY NEARS

Often in Albany, timing is everything.

So this is the time of year when some of the state's special interests hedge bets and give to both Republicans and Democrats -- sometimes running in the same elections.

During an eight-day period ending Thursday, the amount of money flowing to candidates and party organizations would be enough to make many business blush: more than $1.6 million -- or more than $200,000 per day.

Most of the donations have gone to two central campaign committees: the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee. They help individual candidates run for office to help swell the ranks of the majorities in the two legislative houses in Albany.

"The last-minute infusion of cash can make all the difference in an election. The candidates know it, the political leaders know it and the donors know it," said Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It's a great way for the contributors to collect political chits that they may want to cash in later during the policymaking process."

Enter the frantic pace of fund raising. In a recent eight-day period, the Senate Republicans took in more than $342,000 in donations.

The Assembly Democrats brought in $291,000 during the same period.

Far lesser amounts went to Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats -- groups in the minority in the two houses.

Nearly all of the last-minute money came from companies, trade groups or individuals with business in Albany -- trial lawyers, doctors, real estate developers, funeral directors, lobbyists and unions representing everyone from teachers to plumbers.

George Soros, the billionaire out to defeat President Bush, has pumped money into state legislative races, as has the National Rifle Association.

In other cases, the donations came from fellow politicians. Some came to help an ally, like the $1,500 Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz of Cheektowaga sent to a northern New York lawmaker running for re-election.

Other money came as a calling card -- like the donations to Democratic candidates from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer -- both with eyes on a 2006 gubernatorial run.

The donations are eye-catching, as individual contributions go in Albany. A Bronx real estate group wrote Senate Republicans a $50,000 check, while Assembly Democrats got $50,000 from a prison guards union and $34,000 apiece from groups representing trial lawyers and teachers.

In other cases, the money is spread evenly -- like the $25,000 donation made to Senate Republicans on Oct. 21 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the union followed up four days later with a donation in the same amount to Assembly Democrats.

Sometimes, the lines are a bit more blurred.

The trade group that represents physicians donated $30,000 the past week to the campaign trying to bolster the number of Democrats in the Assembly. Three days later, it gave $7,500 to the committee trying to reduce the number of Democrats in the Assembly. A spokesman did not return calls to comment.

Contributors say the money may help them get access to lawmakers on their issues, but nothing more.

"We're not going to go in and buy an issue only because we made a contribution," said Jan Dorman, president of the New York State Optometric Association, which this week gave $50,000 to the Senate Republicans.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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