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2 politicians exit with leftover funds ; Stachowski, Quinn III raise local total to $2.5 million for top 6 ex-officeholders

The local roster of the "Retired Politicians With Lots of Leftover Money Club" has two new members, according to the latest campaign finance reports from the state Board of Elections.

Former State Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Lake View, and former Assemblyman Jack F. Quinn III, R-Hamburg, now join the exclusive list of pols put out to pasture with brimming campaign treasuries. Stachowski reports about $135,000 in his account; Quinn, about $123,000.

That means there is a total of $2.5 million sitting in the campaign accounts of the top six area politicians unlikely to ever run for office again.

It's all perfectly legal, and state officials note that election law prohibits former politicos from dipping into leftover funds for personal use.

But expenses for a variety of politically related purposes are allowed. And good-government groups say the rules are becoming less stringent every day.

"They've expanded exemptions to cover travel costs, memorial services for dead lawmakers, charities, child care services, receptions for campaigns and portraits of retired officials," said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

"They keep stretching it, and stretching it, and stretching it," she added, citing former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno's use of leftover funds for a pool cover at his home.

"The problem is, the rules keep getting bent to the point where they don't look like rules any more," she said.

Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, leads the area list with a leftover pot of about $591,000. He also still maintains $448,000 in his TOMPAC political action committee, which last year gave $11,650 to House Republicans, $9,500 to Senate Republican candidates and $2,000 to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, according to federal campaign records.

Together, the congressman-turned-lobbyist controls more than $1 million in campaign funds he collected as a top Republican fundraiser before leaving the House in 2008.

He joins other politicians like former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and former County Executive Joel A. Giambra, also lobbyists who have supported Albany politicians whom they could conceivably ask for consideration on behalf of clients.

Masiello, for example, contributed $38,500 to Andrew M. Cuomo's successful Democratic campaign for governor last year from Masiello's total of $458,000, down from a high of $651,000. His contribution to Cuomo was one of the biggest of any individual lobbyist. He told The Buffalo News last year he did not contribute the money for access but because of his long association with Cuomo and support for his cause.

Giambra at one time boasted just shy of $800,000 in his account. In 2010 he used part of his current $423,000 to play a key role in shaping the new Republican majority in the State Senate. He gave $18,000 to Niagara County Republicans and another $13,000 to Erie County Republicans, according to state records. The recipients in turn supported Republican Mark J. Grisanti's upset win over State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo.

Giambra is now a lobbyist in a firm headed by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato.

Former U.S. Attorney Denise E. O'Donnell maintains a fund of $308,000, even though her name has never appeared on a ballot. The funds are left over from an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nod for state attorney general in 2006.

Records show that over the years, she has made some charitable and political contributions. But among her biggest expenditures have been $49,000 to the 2009 re-election campaign of her husband, State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell, and about $22,000 to a political consulting firm run by her son, Jack.

One GOP source expressed dismay that Quinn reported so much left over from his campaign, claiming he might have won his race for State Senate had he used those resources. "That sends a terrible message to donors," said the source who asked not to be identified.

Quinn is practicing law part time since losing to Democrat Timothy M. Kennedy in November in a three-way race that included Stachowski. Quinn estimates the total cost of the race topped the $4 million mark. He does not expect to run for office again -- though he doesn't rule it out. He says he has no "grand plan" for his campaign treasury.

"I'll probably raise money for charity," he said. "It allows me to be involved on both sides of the aisle."

"But for anyone who says I would have won if I spent an extra $100,000," he added, "it would have just gone in some consultant's pocket. Other things could have been done differently, but not money."

Stachowski said he was unaware of the amount left over in his campaign account, adding that he expects to use the money for constructive purposes.

"I thought I would probably use it for charitable contributions and things like that," he said. He did not rule out also devoting the money to politics.

Stachowski noted his campaign was spending money until the end. But Democratic sources have also indicated that Stachowski recognized from the primary results against Kennedy and polling numbers in the general election with Kennedy and Quinn that he would not be re-elected.

Rather than waste the money on a lost cause, one source said, Stachowski opted to keep the substantial sum "to be a player" in charity and politics.

Thompson, meanwhile, drew fire from State Senate Democrats when he reported about $120,000 left over in his campaign account from the election that Grisanti won by 525 votes. They told The News in December that spending those dollars almost certainly could have driven more voters to the polls in the heavily Democratic district.

But Thompson's reports now show only $3,900 left over as a result of amendments filed Jan. 18 to seven previous reports dating to last July, according to the Board of Elections. Mark J. Boyd, Thompson's campaign treasurer, did not return a phone call.

Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center said former Gov. David A. Paterson proposed campaign finance reform, but she also said a "window of opportunity" now exists under Cuomo's reform agenda. "He mentioned campaign finance in his State of the State," she said. "Now a lot of New York and national groups are urging him to live up to his promises."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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