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Personal wealth lifts Corwin and Davis in race; $1 million loans are used as Hochul raises funds

Jane L. Corwin and Jack Davis, the two multimillionaires running for Congress in a special election in New York's 26th District, lent each of their campaigns at least $1 million to get them off the ground.

But the third candidate in the race, Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul, actually raised more money as of March 31 than Corwin, a Republican who had barely started fundraising by then, and Davis, an independent who's not fundraising at all.

The loans gave Corwin and Davis strong head starts for the May 24 special election to succeed Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, who resigned amid scandal in February. Corwin had already spent nearly $600,000 on the race as of the end of March, and Davis had spent $1.47 million, while Hochul had spent less than $51,000.

But Hochul, the Erie County clerk from Hamburg, showed surprising financial strength, raising more than $350,000 for a race in a Republican-leaning district where she's the decided underdog.

That's by no means the only surprise to be found in documents the campaigns filed last week with the Federal Election Commission, which detail their campaign finances through the first quarter.

The documents show that Corwin, an Assemblywoman from Clarence, raised only $102,685 for her race -- and that Davis paid a local tea party leader who is behind on his taxes more than $50,000 for legal work.

Corwin lent her campaign $1 million because "she's willing to invest her personal resources in her campaign to restore fiscal sanity in our nation's government," said her spokesman, Matt Harakal.

As for her meager fundraising totals, they may just be a temporary aberration. This month, she made a fundraising trip to the nation's capital, and May 8, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, will appear at a fundraiser for her in Western New York.

The donations Corwin has received come from a typical mix of GOP businesspeople and interest groups.

But also included in her donor base are several businesspeople who own nursing homes that have been cited by the state for poor quality of care, said Curtis Ellis, the Davis campaign spokesman, who took Corwin to task for her upcoming fundraiser with Boehner.

"After the speaker takes her phone call and campaigns for her, isn't she going to owe him?" Ellis said, even though Corwin has already publicly disagreed with Boehner regarding aviation safety legislation tied to the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence Center two years ago.

Ellis said that in contrast to Corwin, "Jack Davis is not taking money from anyone."

Davis, an Akron industrialist who has vowed to spend $3 million on his race, "is absolutely committed to being independent," Ellis said. "As he says, he cannot be bought."

At the same time, Davis sure can pay. Davis, in his fourth race for Congress, has already shelled out $1.47 million to a battalion of campaign consultants and lawyers.

Among those receiving large sums was James Ostrowski, a central figure in the Tea Party Coalition of Western New York who, as The Buffalo News reported recently, faces $52,459.83 in liens on his home for unpaid federal taxes dating from 2001. The Davis campaign paid Ostrowski $51,500 for legal work aimed at getting the independent candidate on the ballot.

Another Tea Party Coalition leader, David J. DiPietro, received $5,462 in campaign consulting fees.

In an interview, Ostrowski said that he worked 15 hours a day for several weeks to help Davis get on the ballot and stressed that he abstained from the Tea Party Coalition's vote to endorse Davis.

"Jack Davis was supportive of the tax revolt from the earliest days," Ostrowski said, adding: "Jane Corwin is not a tea party person in any way, shape or form."

But Tea New York, a rival group, has endorsed Corwin. And one of Tea New York's central figures, Rus Thompson of Grand Island, called the Tea Party Coalition "five men in a room" and questioned the influence of the Davis campaign's payment of large sums to two of the coalition's central figures.

"That's huge to me, even if Ostrowski and DiPietro say they abstained from the endorsement vote," Thompson said.

Far apart from the tea party bickering stands Hochul, who tapped into the donor base she has used in her campaigns for county clerk -- as well as Washington political committees -- to raise more than $350,000.

"I think this shows we're in a healthy place in terms of fundraising," said Hochul campaign spokesman Fabien Levy.

"The other candidates are self-funding millionaires who plan to write huge checks for their campaign," Levy added. "Kathy Hochul believes getting the support of Western New Yorkers will win this election for us."

Harakal, spokesman for Corwin, countered by saying Hochul's fundraising report shows that in addition to raising money from family and from local donors, "she has been calling a lot of special interests in Washington."

The report shows that most of Hochul's donations came from individuals, $76,300 came from political committees. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave her $5,000, and labor unions were also major Hochul donors.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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