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Brown rides financial steamroller in bid for 3rd term as mayor

Polls showed that the primary and general elections would be a cakewalk for Mayor Byron W. Brown, but that hasn’t stopped the two-term mayor from waging a high-priced campaign – spending five times more than his cash-strapped challengers combined.

Brown’s re-election committee spent close to $1.3 million as of mid-October, most of it during the primary race, records show.

Meanwhile, Brown’s current general election challenger, Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez, so far has spent $26,653 and raised $26,872, according to campaign filing reports.

The mayor’s Democratic primary opponent, Bernard A. Tolbert, raised $193,312 and spent $194,403, the reports show.

Brown’s large campaign war chest became an obstacle for Tolbert’s own fundraising, the primary challenger said.

“People get scared off,” Tolbert said. “People said, ‘Why would you run against someone who has so much money?’ and suggested it was political suicide.

“Money allows you to have a better organization,” Tolbert added. “Money can buy TV ads that help you raise your profile. Money goes where money is.”

In response to questions by The Buffalo News about campaign spending, the Brown campaign issued a statement Thursday: “Regardless of the opponent, the Brown campaign put a campaign strategy and plan in place and ran the campaign accordingly.”

The campaign strategy, the statement said, is based on marketing Buffalo “as a city that is on the rise with record amounts of new development and lower taxes.”

Brown started the campaign year with about $1 million on hand, then raised an additional $882,000 from mid-July 2012 to mid-October 2013, campaign finance records show.

The campaign had $622,484 remaining as of mid-October. Rodriguez had $269.

Brown’s campaign spending this year not only dwarfs that of his opponents, but is also greater than his last re-election bid.

Bulk during primary

In the 2009 campaign, records said, Brown spent $832,509 – about $450,000 less than the $1.28 million spent so far on the current campaign. In that campaign, Brown faced a Democratic challenge from then-Common Council Member Michael P. Kearns, who is now an assemblyman. Brown had no general election opponent in 2009.

The Brown campaign said that it is senseless to compare the 2009 and 2013 campaigns because Brown had no 2009 general election opponent. The News, however, found that the bulk of Brown’s spending – all but about $160,000 – was during the primary, although some of the primary spending could carry over into the general election.

Brown’s campaign has been financed by a long list of donors that reads like the power elite, with unions, developers and lawyers, as well as city workers

Sixty percent of his money comes from Buffalo and an additional 30 percent from Erie and Niagara county communities outside Buffalo, a News analysis found.

Two percent is from the New York City area, 5 percent from other upstate communities, and 3 percent from out of state, including the Washington, D.C., region.

Within the city, the biggest chunks of money came from South Buffalo, downtown and North Buffalo.

Brown’s biggest contributors were the 43X79 political action committee, representing a group of Buffalo-area business leaders; and 1199 SEIU, the United Healthcare Workers union. Each gave Brown $12,500.

“He’s been very helpful with the medical corridor and with forming Peacemakers, a nonviolence group,” said Maurice Brown, SEIU’s political coordinator, explaining the organization support for the mayor. Maurice and Byron Brown are not related.

Other top Brown contributors include Kim Pegula, wife of Sabres owner Terry Pegula, who the city selected in 2012 to develop the Webster Block of the Canalside district. Kim Pegula gave Brown $12,000.

Brown’s top five contributors, The News found, also included Westchester by Norstar, a Texas-based development company that donated $10,000; as well as the Hodgson Russ law firm and attorney Adam W. Perry, who is a friend of the mayor’s.

The firm itself gave Brown $7,900 while Perry, contributed an additional $2,000 for a total of $9,900. Hodgson Russ has received about $4 million in work from the city and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority since Brown became mayor.

“People donate to campaigns all over the country, and that is their right,” the Brown campaign statement said. ”The fact that so many individuals and business leaders in Buffalo donated to the mayor’s campaign shows how much they believe in the job the mayor is doing and the great progress that is currently taking place in Buffalo.”

Where the money goes

Close to half the money spent by the Brown campaign – $469,488 – went to Buying Time, a Washington, D.C.-based media company that bought television advertising time for the campaign.

The Brown campaign said that it did not directly hire Buying Time. That was done through a media company the campaign worked with, the campaign statement said.

Buying Time has received $16 million in business from candidates and political organizations in New York State since 2010, with most of that money – almost $12 million – coming from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2010 campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

The firm is also popular with the New York State Democratic Party and was used in the current campaign season by Noam Bramson, the Democrat running for Westchester County executive as well as Brown and the Western New York Progressive Caucus.

The caucus is a fundraising committee tied to political operative G. Steven Pigeon, who is aligned with both Brown and Cuomo.

A commission that Cuomo recently appointed to investigate political corruption is looking into how political parties use funds collected by its housekeeping committees. As part of that probe, the commission has subpoenaed Buying Time records. Buying Time declined to comment on the probe.

Another chunk of Brown’s campaign account – $163,428 – went to Marketing Tech, a local firm that specializes in campaign materials and that traditionally has been more popular with Republicans than Democrats.

“The Brown campaign has worked with Marketing Tech for a long time,” the campaign statement said.

“Regardless of who their former or current clients are, they are a city of Buffalo-based business who does tremendous work.”

Also getting big money from the Brown campaign was Murphy Vogel Askew & Reilly, a Virginia-based political consulting firm that received $90,842. Global Strategy Group, a research firm based in New York and Washington, D.C., was the other company the mayor’s campaign paid more than $50,000 during this campaign season. It received $50,250, campaign reports show.